How to write a college supplement about community

college admissions Common Application supplements

You do not exist in a vacuum and colleges know this! The very common “community essay” is an opportunity for you to tell a story about one community that matters to you and what you have gained from its membership. This is your chance to talk about people you care about (and why!) in a much tighter and more focused way than you can in your Common App Personal Essay.  This is an important supplement because it shows you as you exist in connection to other people. Remember, college is an exercise in community – and schools want to admit students who understand our greater social responsibility toward the welfare of others.

Note: This essay will range in length but is often “mid-sized” and about 250 words.

Example Community Questions:

  • The University of Michigan: Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
  • Duke: We seek a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you'd like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you've had to help us understand you better—perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background—we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying. 
  • MIT: Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?
  • Tufts: How have the environments or experiences of your upbringing – your family, home, neighborhood, or community – shaped the person you are today?
  • Yale: Reflect on a community to which you feel connected. Why is it meaningful to you?  You may define community however you like.
  • Columbia: Columbia students take an active role in improving their community, whether in their residence hall, classes, or throughout New York City. Their actions, small or large, work to positively impact the lives of others. Share one contribution that you have made to your family, school, friend group, or another community that surrounds you.

LET'S BREAK DOWN THE ESSENTIAL POINTS YOU NEED TO HIT WHEN RESPONDING TO THIS SUPPLEMENT:

Be honest and authentic. Select and discuss a community that matters to you without being swayed by something you believe makes you “look good” in the eyes of an admissions officer. If you want to write about your soccer team, do that.

If the question asks you to reflect on how that community has “shaped” you, be sure to consider these lessons carefully and articulate them well here. Don’t bypass these essential parts of the question to focus only on defining your community.

Don’t think of yourself as a passive recipient of the benefits of community but rather consider communities where you are an active participant. If you are struggling to think about what community to discuss, consider communities where you have BOTH had an impact on others and been impacted by them.

It is sometimes better to dive into the unexpected! There are millions of essays about the sports team that came together after winning (or more often, losing) the big game. It’s fine to write about your team, but take it to another place! Find your own angle.

THINGS TO AVOID:

This is not a moment to traffic in stereotypes or judgments, either your own or those you might presume belong to others (including the admissions officer who reads your essay). When in doubt, ask a friend to read this essay and give you honest feedback on this metric!

More than many essays, it can be easy for a community essay to delve quickly into cliche and platitudes. Work hard to keep these phrases and concepts out of your essay. Keep it authentically in your voice.

It might be tempting to put yourself in a community whose boundaries you don’t know (example: “I belong to the community of makers/problem solvers/doers/etc…”), it is better to consider communities whose boundaries and members are clear and tangible. 

ADDITIONAL TIPS AND TRICKS:

As long as you are mindful of the word count, this is actually an essay that you can pretty easily reuse for multiple applications without any hesitation.

Do you have an activity on your Activities List that you felt you couldn’t adequately describe with the limited activity character count but that is really meaningful for you? Take this opportunity to tell the admissions committee more about this activity and use it as the highlight for your community.

Do you go to a unique high school? This is a wonderful opportunity to tell an admissions committee more about your school and what makes it such a special place. Don’t be afraid to brag a bit about your school and what you love about it.

When in doubt, consider writing about the communities that further the narrative your application is building and write about these. Are you telling a story about yourself as an aspiring cancer-researcher? Then use a community in your science lab to further illustrate this point. Don’t just pull something fully random out of a hat here!

Elise holds a BA in Political Philosophy from Williams College and an MEd in Administration & Social Policy from Harvard. She has spent the past twenty years working in top-tier independent schools.

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