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Supplemental Essay 1: “Why are you applying to our school?”

While the Common App essay is a chance for you to display your unique personality and life experiences, the college-specific supplemental essays may highlight some of the best parts of the school you are applying to.

In other words, while the former seeks to discover what you have to offer to the school, the latter is often a way for admissions officers to see what their school has to offer to you. And more often than not, you’re the one who has to explain what these offerings you would take the most advantage of would be.

On some level I always knew that one day I’d have to detail what exactly it was about each school that made me want to attend, so I made sure to pay close attention during the information sessions I attended, starting with my very first one sometime sophomore year.

That morning, the walk through the campus towards the Admissions Office assured me that this college had more than enough to offer scenically, but would the academics live up to the school’s prestigious name?

Turned out I had nothing to worry about, as my eyes grew bigger and bigger with every new exciting opportunity I heard.

Concerned about large lectures? Fear not, weekly discussions held by TAs, with only 10-15 students, will give you the undivided attention and help you deserve! Want to be challenged? You got it! Every senior is required to write and submit a thesis before they graduate, which is then bound and kept in one of our libraries!

And it didn’t stop there; campus life offered quirky clubs such as Chocolate Club, where, you guessed it, the main activity consisted of eating chocolate. This school enraptured me; surely I couldn’t come across anything better!

As I came to discover in the next year or so after many more college tours (and some extensive website reading), that wasn’t exactly the case. Discussion sections to supplement hundred-person lectures were the norm at most large schools, and even some smaller colleges that wanted to provide students with extra support. And while not every school required each and every student to write a thesis, the opportunity to do so was available practically anywhere. 

Knowing all this, you might think I lost some of the wonder I initially felt during my first college tour. You’re partly right; I never feel quite as excited again as I did when I walked out of my first information session, but I remained strangely attached to that first school all throughout junior year.

Come fall senior year, I still had not shaken this strange attachment, and I had my heart set on applying ED to this school that I visited almost two years ago. In my experience, most students applying ED somewhere do so because they are absolutely in love with the school, and can give you an extensive list of convincing reasons why that school is the perfect place for them.

I couldn’t do the same. Every time I sat down and tried to think of a reason as to why I was applying ED, it just seemed a bit too generic. “The main library is gorgeous!” Well, you can find dozens of wonderful college libraries across the country, starting with these.

“The chapel is breathtaking! Imagine attending an event here!” Again, beautiful chapels are plentiful on college campuses all over.

And of course, “Look at the high percentage of students who get accepted into medical/law school! Far higher than the national average percentage!” Yet again, this wasn’t exactly unique to the school I was determined to apply to; many schools boasted these high percentages, and honestly, they’re just statistics. Going to that school didn’t automatically guarantee me a spot in a graduate program.

Having a bunch of mediocre reasons didn’t make writing my supplemental essay any easier. I wanted to show the school why I was so eager to attend, but I felt like I fell short of an essay whose authenticity and enthusiasm spoke for itself.

Regardless, I ended up applying ED to the school that had been sitting in the back of my mind ever since the first time I laid my eyes on it.

I submitted the application against the advice of both my counselor and parents. They had their own reasons, I’m sure, but I’d imagine one of those reasons was that they didn’t see my passion clearly enough to justify applying to this school ED.

In the end, I was deferred and later rejected, but I wasn’t all that heartbroken, surprisingly. Like any other rejection, this one stung, but it didn’t feel like the end of the world. I think I had finally begun to realize that so many of the things I saw in that school, I could find at a number of other places.

Since then, I’ve pretty much worked out why I was so set on that first school. In short, things such as discussion sections were such a novel concept to high-school-me that even though I heard essentially the same thing at a number of other schools after that, the first school I heard it from left me with the deepest impression. I thought that an impression that impactful could only mean that I had found the perfect school for me.

In reality, I was clinging to the sense of wonder I felt at discovering the world of college and all the previously unknown experiences it could offer me, both academically and socially. Instead of acknowledging this feeling for the abstract idea that it was and how it could apply to almost any college I’d eventually attend, I naively latched the feeling to the first place where I felt that sense of wonder.

When you visit schools for the first time, whether it’s browsing their website virtually or touring the campus in person, you probably won’t be prepared for some of the new ideas you’ll encounter. Regardless of where you visit, you’ll see, hear, or feel something undeniably foreign, and maybe even slightly intimidating, but bursting with potential.

Needless to say, every college has something unique to offer, and that’s what you want to look for when you’re choosing which schools to apply to. But it’s important to go into the college search with awareness for what makes an individual school truly stand out, rather than the experience of attending college in general.

In my case, my initial shock at all the possibilities overpowered my more rational thoughts, and led me to make a misguided decision as to where I should apply ED.  The college I am at now has plenty of discussion sections (some awkward, some lively, as is the case almost anywhere), offers the opportunity to write an honors thesis during senior year (an undertaking I will happily accept), and has a Wine Club and Cheese Club.

Little did I know it two years ago, but the school I’d end up at is probably far more fitting for me in many ways that that first school ever would have been.

June Xia

June is a junior at Cornell University studying biology. She attended public high school in the Philly suburbs, where she ate lots of water ice and hoagies. June enjoys watching TV, playing candy crush, and reading the New York Times. Writing poetry and knitting kept her sane during admissions season, plus a lot of chocolate and hugs; she made it out alive, and is all the more introspective and aware thanks to the experience.