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A Plea For Colleges to Announce Supplemental Essay Prompts Now

I am knee-deep in editing main college essays for my Application Nation - Class of 2021 students and private clients, but I know what is coming.

Some of my students and parents have already begun to ask about it. I keep putting them off just a bit. "If I can just get one more main college essay finalized," I keep telling myself. But it's inevitable. The idea of supplemental essays is already upon us.

It used to be that colleges didn't make announcements about their supplemental essay prompts for the new admissions cycle. They just quietly updated their admissions website in August (or later) and relied on Common App to include their recycled or new essay prompts on an updated supplement when the largest application platform re-launched its site every August 1st. This meant that students couldn't start their supplemental essays until August. And for students who start the school year that month, that meant they were forced to write dozens of supplemental essays while trying to handle the onslaught of homework associated with senior year. 
 
But a few very thoughtful colleges, like the University of Chicago, started making an announcement about their new supplemental essay prompts well before August 1st. If I could kiss the person who initiated this, I would (pre-COVID, of course). That's because the more lead time a student has for these additional and sometimes more challenging essays, the better prepared they are. 
For example, if Vanderbilt University would simply just announce whether they plan to use the same supplemental essay prompt that they have used for several years about an extracurricular activity, then students would be better informed. How hard is it to just make an announcement and add the recycled prompt from past years or provide the new one to their website in advance?  Not only would this help students learn about the Vanderbilt requirements well before they go back to school, but it could help shape their main college essay as well. If students know that they're going to have to write an entire supplemental essay about an extracurricular essay for Vanderbilt and other colleges, then they will know not to write about this topic for their main essay. 


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I remember reviewing supplemental essay prompts late summer as a dean of admissions. I didn't really feel the pressure that students feel. I was living in my own little bubble on a college campus without really understanding how important it is for students to know what is expected of them well before senior year begins. Now that I work with students so closely, I can see the stress in their eyes and the worries in their posture. It is like walking into the scariest surgery of your life and not knowing what part of your body you are being operated on. 
 
I urge all colleges who have supplemental essays and policy changes to make announcements sooner rather than later. I am so disappointed that some colleges are still dragging their feet on announcing essay topics and whether standardized test scores will be required for the Class of 2021. Colleges owe our kids clear direction on the requirements for admission this year because once the school year begins, seniors will have their hands full. 
Seniors will be trying to get back on track with classes to make sure their grades are more representative than the past school year was. They will also be trying to squeeze in college visits and required testing which came to a halt in the spring. Most of all, our kids carry the burden of navigating the most complicated process of their lives in the most complicated year in history. It is up to colleges to make this process a little more manageable for the students they need to survive.