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How to Write an Extracurricular Supplemental Essay
Step 1: Read the prompt closely.
If you’ve read any of our other supplemental essay guides, you might be familiar with this step. You may even be sick of hearing it. But it’s important to carefully dissect the prompt so you know exactly what admissions officers will be expecting you to address.
In the case of Extracurricular Activities essays, reading the prompt is essential. I’ll use the Vanderbilt and Colorado College prompts as an example.
Notice that the Vanderbilt prompt asks you to “briefly elaborate on how one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences has influenced you,” while the Colorado College prompt simply says, “Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.”
So what’s the difference? The Vanderbilt prompt asks you specifically to discuss how your activity has influenced you, but the Colorado College prompt gives you more freedom with what part of your activity you can focus on.
Step 2: Choose your extracurricular activity based on the values, impact, or lessons you want to show.
Remember that your personal statement, supplemental essays, and other application components work together to form a cohesive application narrative. Your essays should each show one of your best strengths, and together they should communicate your overall personal brand.
As you choose which extracurricular activity to write about, be sure that you’re thinking strategically about what you want your activity to say about you to an admissions officer.
Here’s a chart that might help you out. I’ve filled out an example first row so you can get the hang of it. Try filling in your own information to see what sticks.
|Extracurricular Activity||Impact||Personal Meaning||Strength(s)|
|Debate||- Impact on my team because we won the finals
- National impact because it was the national competition
|I learned how to speak up for what I care about.||- Teamwork
- Advocate for justice
Step 3: Outline.
Okay, let’s say that you’re the debate team member we met earlier and you’re working on the Colorado College prompt. Since the prompt doesn’t specify which aspect of your extracurricular you should focus on, you get to choose what you think will be best.
Let’s also say that your personal statement already talks about your role on a team, so you want to supplement your personal statement (this is a supplemental essay, after all!) by focusing instead on how this activity has advanced your passion for climate justice.
Before you begin writing, it might be a good idea to outline what you want to write about to make sure your essay covers everything you want it to.
Here’s an example outline to get you thinking.
I. Introduction: Introduce the activity and lay out what’s at stake.
II. Body: Discuss impact, personal meaning, or reach.
III. Conclusion: Reflect on the activity and drive home how it showcases your chosen strength.
Clearly organizing your essay in a way that gives concrete details while focusing on meaning will help admissions officers understand the importance of your activity.
Extracurricular supplemental essay mistakes
Writing a thinly-veiled Academic Interest essay instead of an Extracurricular essay
Because you’re applying to college to be a student, some applicants think that you need to write about an extracurricular experience related to your academics. This kind of essay might include topics like debate, robotics club, Model United Nations, coding experience, independent research, and more.
Co-curricular activities that are related to your academic interests aren’t off-limits. But you do have to be careful not to overstate the academic importance of your activity. If admissions offices want to know more about one of your academic interests, then they’ll ask you to answer an Academic Interest prompt.
But because they’ve asked you to write an Extracurricular supplemental, then you’ll need to keep your focus on the “extra” part of “extracurricular.”
Going into too much detail at the expense of personal meaning.
I know—it’s hard not to unleash your passion and expertise when writing about your favorite extracurricular activity. Doing so can demonstrate its importance to you and your knowledge of the subject.
But the problem with going into too much detail is that it can outshine the true purpose of a supplemental essay, which is to show personal meaning and school fit.
Focusing on a superficial “non-extracurricular.”
If you’re not quite sure what extracurricular to write about, let me give you a quick warning. You need to write about a real extracurricular activity. Some students want to put a creative twist on the prompt and focus on an “extracurricular” that is more of a personal interest than an actual activity.
A good example of a superficial “non-extracurricular” would be an essay about going on long drives while listening to music. Sure, you might be able to write an interesting essay about that. But that kind of topic doesn’t fulfill the expectations of a supplemental essay, and it doesn’t give you the information you need to make your case for admission.
Extracurricular Supplemental Essay Example
Example Essay: The Journalist
Colorado College: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (no more than 250 words)
As an impressionable six-year-old, I watched Meryl Streep-portrayed Miranda Priestly shape fashion history with a single word of disgust. I longed for my words to have such an impact.
Now, as an editor-in-chief myself, I oversee daily operations of The Hallway, my high school’s newspaper. Instead of shaping global fashion trends,
I impact my community by ensuring everyone stays informed.((The writer highlights their community impact.))
My place as editor-in-chief was solidified when, in March of last year, we published a breaking story. After a tip to our newspaper email address, a fellow reporter and I uncovered an academic dishonesty scandal. We conducted interviews, dug into school files, and reviewed old test keys to discover the cheating. My reporter wrote the story, and I edited it and put it on the front page.
Our story became so big that it was republished in our city’s local newspaper.((This paragraph points to the student’s reach. They didn’t just impact their school community—their efforts also reached their city.))
Leading my team through this investigation taught me just how important journalism is.((This paragraphs reflects on the meaning of the activity to the writer.)) Even when people might be upset with what you write, what’s most important is the truth. People can’t make decisions if they’re uninformed about the facts. And reporters can’t investigate and write those stories without the support of a leader who’s willing to put in the work, too.
I doubt I’ll ever predict what we’ll be wearing next spring. But I know that my words will continue to have a deep impact on my community,
and I can’t wait to find the next big story at The Catalyst.((The writer offers a brief but specific reference to the institution.))
Looking for more examples? We've got a bunch of other college essay examples for you to read—check them out!