JOY! Not just a character in Inside Out, but a supplement essay too!

college admissions Common Application supplements

Increasingly, schools are asking students to reflect on things that bring them joy, satisfaction, or happiness. These can be difficult to write as often the college application process is the opposite of joyful... but these joy essays are here to stay!

Note: These essays tend to range in length from 50-250 words.

Example "Joy" Questions:

  • Brown: Brown students care deeply about their work and the world around them. Students find contentment, satisfaction, and meaning in daily interactions and major discoveries. Whether big or small, mundane or spectacular, tell us about something that brings you joy. 
  • Dartmouth: What excites you?
  • MIT: We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it. 
  • Princeton: What brings you joy?
  • Stanford: Tell us about something that is meaningful to you, and why?
  • Yale: Reflect on something that has given you great satisfaction. Why has it been important to you?


As with all supplements, every word matters here! Do not waste words in restating the question or equivocating around a definition of “joy” or “satisfaction."

Be honest! This is a space where the tendency to tell an untruth or exaggerate is probably quite strong (i.e. wanting to write about the joy you find in titrating a solution properly in your AP Chem class). These questions do not need an academic response – they do need an honest response. Think about your days – examine the moments when you are happy and feel joyful – write about those!

Help your reader SEE your joy as much as possible! If you are writing about the joy that comes from baking cakes, riding your bike around your town, or playing LEGOs with your younger brother, use descriptive language to help your reader really feel present in the moment with you. Your reader will believe your joy if you can capture it effectively and clearly! These are essays where it is so important to SHOW not tell.

Find a unique angle or approach, which often can be found deep into the specifics of your topic! Sure they might read a lot of essays about baking, so think about what you can say that is unique to you. Do you love eating what you have made? Sharing your desserts with others? Experimenting with new flavors and combinations? Your specificity will help to provide your essay with a uniqueness that is all your own.

While not every question asks it explicitly, the WHY is essential here. This essay is a great opportunity for reflection and vulnerability. Take a moment to consider why this activity or object brings you so much joy, and then dig in to share that with the school.


Cliche! Avoid all trite and cliched statements like how you love biking around town because you love the feeling of the wind in your hair… again, honesty and specificity should help you to avoid cliches.

Do not skip over your WHY: simply writing an essay about something that brings joy without diving into any specifics about why that thing brings you joy is missing an opportunity to reflect. Think of your supplements as a chance to share your ability to think deeply and don’t miss an opportunity to do so.


Look over the rest of your supplements and consider the topics that they cover. Is something missing that is essential to understanding YOU? Think about all of the things you want a college to learn about you and who you really are – and then consider what is already covered in your essays. Use this essay to go into a fully new direction to share a side of yourself that has not yet been seen.

While the questions are slightly different for each of these schools (and the word counts vary), the essence of these questions are the same. Feel free to write one joy essay and then adapt the topic to the specifics for a different school. Just because one school asks about “joy” and another about “great satisfaction” does not mean that you need to find a new topic for each one of those.

Give yourself permission to play with this type of question. This is likely one of your only opportunities to set academics aside and really speak from your heart. Use it.

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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