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Last updated March 6, 2024

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Writing a Great Academic Interest Essay (with Examples)

Key Takeaway

Academic interest essays are extremely common across applications. They're important because they help schools understand the type of student-scholar you're going to be while on their campus. It's crucial to show curiosity, passion, and even collaborative values in these essays.

What is an Academic Interest supplemental essay?

Academic Interest essays are a kind of supplemental essay. They ask you to expand on one of your primary academic interests. Since you’re going to college to be a student, colleges ask Academic Interest supplemental essay questions because they want to get a sense of your intellectual curiosity.

In fact, Academic Interest essays are one of the main places in your application for you to geek out about the topics you’re most passionate about.

Admissions officers want to know about the questions that keep you awake at night, the problems you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and solve, and the conversations you can’t wait to partake in.

But don’t worry. When a school asks you to describe your academic interest, you don’t have to stress about having your entire life planned out. If you say, “I want to create a robot to clean up litter in the ocean,” nobody is going to come knocking on your door when you graduate looking for a robot.

Your main goal when writing your Academic Interest supplementals? Show that you’ll be a great contributor to the learning community on campus.

In this post, we’ll walk you through how to do just that.

Let’s start by looking at a few examples of what Academic Interest prompts look like.

1: Stanford University

The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning. (100 to 250 words)

2: Pomona College

Academic Interest Statement: What do you love about the subject(s) you selected as potential major(s)? If undecided, share more about one of your academic passions.

3: Brandeis University

The Brandeis community is a diverse group of critical thinkers defined by their ability to dive deeper into their learning by questioning, analyzing, evaluating, creating, critiquing and seeking other perspectives. Share an example of how you have used your own critical thinking skills on a specific subject, project, idea or interest.

These examples should help you identify Academic Interest prompts when you come across them.

Now let’s move on to discussing three strategies you can use to answer any Academic Interest prompt colleges throw at you.

Academic Interest Essay Strategy

Great essays are strategic essays. Since supplemental essays exist to supplement the rest of your essays (like your personal statement), activities, and letters of recommendation, it’s important to write them with intention. These three strategies will help you write your Academic Interest essays with an eye toward showing admissions officers how your intellectual curiosity makes you a perfect fit for the intellectual community at the school in question.

  1. Write about an academic interest that aligns with what the school has to offer.

    It doesn’t make much sense to write about your undying passion for pursuing a career in linguistics if you’re applying to a school that doesn’t have a linguistics program. Be sure you're doing your research on the school.

    Remember that your supplemental essays exist to showcase how well you fit into a school’s academic, social, and cultural communities. While the academic interest you choose doesn’t have to exactly match up with something specific at the school like a Why this Major essay, it’s a good idea to choose an interest that can support your case for academic fit.

  2. Be specific.

    Specificity is your friend in most essays but especially in Academic Interest essays. As an admissions officer, one of the most memorable Academic Interest essays I read was about the history of corsets. It doesn’t get much more specific than that!

    In a similar way, you should choose something specific to write about based on what the prompt is asking you to do. Whatever your intellectual niche is, don’t be afraid to be explicit about what it is that captivates you. Your goal is to be as specific as is necessary to bring an admissions officer into your intellectual world, give them a look around, and send them on their way with a new understanding of what you care about and why it’s important.

  3. Reflect on the significance of your academic interest.

    Academic Interest essays succeed when you demonstrate why the topic is important to you and to the world.

    While these supplementals should be specific, they aren’t an opportunity for you to write a treatise on an obscure math concept or insect species. Instead, your Academic Interest essays should make it clear why your interest matters, to whom, and why.

    Showing these connections lets an admissions officer know that you’re able to see the big picture and draw connections between academic interests and real-world problems.

How to write an Academic Interest supplemental essay

Alright. With those three strategies in mind, it’s time to get to writing.

Step 1: Read the prompt.

There are lots of ways colleges ask you to write about an academic interest. Take a look at the examples above. The Stanford prompt says that you can reflect on “an idea or experience,” but the Pomona prompt only asks for an “academic passion.” The Brandeis one is different yet, asking you to focus specifically on critical thinking and giving you the freedom to talk about a number of ways your academic interest has manifested.

The wording of the prompt will affect the options you have to choose from, so be sure to read it carefully.

Step 2: Decide on an academic interest.

After you’ve narrowed down your options based on the prompt, next you have to think about your application strategy.

If you’re applying to a particular college major, you should choose an academic interest that is related to your preferred major to emphasize your intellectual curiosity for that subject. Alternatively, you could pick an unrelated academic interest that shows your interdisciplinary inclinations (but that will probably be less effective). What you decide will depend on what kind of school you’re applying to and what other strengths you’ve strewn throughout the rest of your application narrative.

Step 3: Outline & Write

I. Introduction: Hook your reader into your topic with your first sentence, and expand on your academic interest throughout your introduction.

II. Body: Provide more details and introduce your reader to the problem, question, puzzle, or implications that keep you intrigued.

III. Body II: Connect your academic interest to an activity you've been involved in. Use this essay as an opportunity to show a connection between your resume and your academic interests.

IV. Conclusion: Reflect on why your interest matters and why your interest in the subject is personally meaningful

Academic Interest Supplemental Essay Mistakes

There are two frequent mistakes applicants make when writing Academic Interest essays, and they typically happen when students aren’t paying enough attention to their application strategy.

  1. Being too academic or too personal.

    All college essays are tricky because they require you to balance a number of things. Academic Interest essays are no different. They are a balancing act between intellectual curiosity and personal meaning.

    The first mistake applicants make is failing to find this balance. Too much or too little of either, and your essay comes across as too academic or too personal.

    You don’t want to be the student who rambles on about a math proof and leaves your admissions officer without any sense of meaning to hang on to. Similarly, you don’t want to dive too deep into meaning and completely neglect to address the details of what interests you. Finding balance is essential.

  2. Being too general.

    So you want to “solve the world’s problems” or “find practical solutions to climate change.” That’s great! But when it comes to Academic Interest essays, the key is specificity. Anyone can have general interests in any topic. It’s the niche and particular academic interests that set applicants apart.

    Focusing on one very specific interest tells admissions officers that you’re committed enough to your interest to have done thorough research on it. Your specificity shows familiarity with and dedication to a topic—both things that all colleges look for in their students.

    If you’re too general, you run the risk of your Academic Interest essay not actually serving you. Too vague, and it’ll be like you didn’t write the essay at all.

    So rather than trying to capture all of your interests or solve all of the world’s problems at once, hone in on something that you just can’t stop thinking about. Your future self (and your admissions officers) will thank you.

Academic Interest Supplemental Essay Examples

Example: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Brown: Brown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about any academic interests that excite you, and how you might use the Open Curriculum to pursue them while also embracing topics with which you are unfamiliar. (200-250 words)

"How was school and what do you want to be when you grow up today?"

My mom asked me this two-part question every day when she picked me up in second grade.

One day I wanted to be a chemist because of an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy. The next, I wanted to be a teacher like Miss Frizzle, or a paleontologist because of the dinosaur episode we'd just watched. Or maybe I wanted to produce cartoons for kids.

The idea of really learning something and trying to master it has always excited me. My only issue was that seemingly every subject was the next shiny thing I wanted to learn.

Brown's Open Curriculum is uniquely suited to satiate my broad interests–many of which I have maintained since I was a kid. I still love chemistry and have had the privilege of experiencing an advanced academic lab at UVA studying infectious diseases. I will certainly explore chemistry courses and seek out more research opportunities. I know I want to study abroad, and I'm most interested in the “Dinosaurs, Dry Bones, and Digs" course and trip that Brown archaeology professor Schultz hosts each spring to search for new dinosaur fossils in Brazil. Producing my school’s senior film with the help of my advanced filmmaking team has prompted me to also try on modern culture and media coursework at Brown and participate in the Campus Reel competition in the fall.

While my academic interests have evolved since I was seven, I look to college as a time to explore fields of interest, discover new ones, and maybe after four years have a better answer to that question, “what do I want to be when I grow up?”



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