Oops. Not again! We are talking about supplements for college application essays. Not vitamin supplements. Geez!

Even though supplemental essays usually are short—usually a paragraph or two—many students are stumped on how to structure them. Or on just how to start or end them.

In general, since they are so short, you don’t have to get fancy. Jump right into your points or answers. Be direct, but include details and specific examples.

Here are a couple ideas to help you get going. These are for the most common supp: “Why you at our college?” or “What will you contribute to our college?” or “Why do you want to go to our college?” My last post, 10 Tips to Power Your Supplemental Essays, can help you find great information to include in these short essays.

Here are two very simple outlines that might help you structure your “Why You?” Essay¬†

A. Hit Your Best Point First 

First paragraph: Start with your best or favorite point you want to make about what excites/intrigues/attracts you to this school, and briefly explain why. Often, this point is an example of a larger feature you like about the school. (Example: On school tour, you learned all students are thrown in a fountain on their birthday, and how you think traditions like that show a tight-knit, supportive college atmosphere, which you like.) You can spend a couple sentences describing this point, including specific details or emotion to give it color and interest. If you want, you could end this paragraph with some type of broader statement about how what you value (give specifics) lines up with what they value. (If you know what you want to study, it’s probably best to feature its academic appeal first, or emphasize that.)

Second paragraph: Now flush out your other points. Try to provide 3-5 other examples of how your college goals lines up with what they offer, and how you know that, and why it’s important. Draw from several areas in these examples: academic (this is most likely the most important); social; lifestyle; location; philosophical; extracurricular activities, unique opportunities, etc. If you make a point, back it up with a specific detail or example.

Unlike a typical longer essay, there’s no need to summarize or wrap up your supplement with a “conclusion,” unless it comes naturally. Better to use your space to give specific examples and make points supporting your main ideas.

B. Start With What First Attracted You to the School

First paragraph: Start by stating what was the main thing that first attracted you to this school. (Even if it’s relatively lightweight, you can expand into more meaty reasons next.) For example, one student wrote about how he always wanted to paint his face with this college’s colors and cheer on their football team. Or you could start with your first impression while on a school tour, or with what a friend of a friend told you about her or his experience. These are just ideas on how to get started. At the end of this paragraph, you can make a more general statement about the overall main reason you want to go there–and mostly likely this will be about your field of interest (top engineering program; study abroad emphasized; key location for future goals, etc.)

Second paragraph: This is where you can give more details on other top reasons you connect with that school. (Something first attracted you, but as you researched you learned about more and more features that you liked…) You can flesh out the idea of how what they offer supports your academic goals–give specifics, such as individual classes, internship opportunities, special facilities, top professors, type of peers, supportive values, etc. But you can also mention other parts of the school that attract you and support your education goals–socially, lifestyle, philosophical values, hobbies, location, etc. (I don’t believe you need to have an actual “conclusion” with these supps where you formally summarize your points, unless it works out that way. Best to use the space to make solid points.)

You also might find my other post, Why College X?, helpful on answering this common supplement prompt.