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Harvard supplement essay?

WhiteWishesWhiteWishes 48 replies22 threads Junior Member
edited September 2011 in Harvard University
Can I submit an essay that is unrelated to the listed topics in the Harvard supplement? For additional essays in the Harvard supplement, it says:

"Occasionally, students feel that college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about themselves or their accomplishments. If there is something you would like us to know, please inform us below. If you wish to include an additional essay, you may do so.

Possible Topics:
- Unusual circumstances in your life
- Travel or living experiences in other countries
- Books that have most affected you
- An academic experience (course, project, paper or research topic) that has meant the most to you
- A list of the books you have read during the past twelve months"

I know the question has been asked, but has anyone who's gotten into Harvard written about something not listed in the possible topics? Is the question basically a "write about anything you want" (like the Common App), or do you have to pick one of the five listed topics?
edited September 2011
23 replies
Post edited by WhiteWishes on
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Replies to: Harvard supplement essay?

  • HarvardParentHarvardParent 181 replies3 threads Junior Member
    Actually, the question you should ask how many admitted students actually wrote an essay on those suggested topics. You should pick an unique topic that is dear to your heart.
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  • imntwoimntwo 124 replies2 threads Junior Member
    hear, hear
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  • claudeturpinclaudeturpin 62 replies0 threads Junior Member
    If you wrote a good common app essay, I would encourage you to consider saving your energy. My S got into Harvard this year on the basis of a great common app essay and relatively mediocre stats (by Harvard standards), i.e., 2200 combined SAT, 3.9 GPA, no hooks.
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  • SamonuhSamonuh 956 replies95 threads- Senior Member
    ^^^Wait, are you serious? I was told that the supplement essay is basically mandatory and if I didn't write it I would get rejected....
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  • DaisieDaisie 143 replies10 threads Junior Member
    Not submitting an optional essay will not be sole the reason you're not admitted--although a good one might have made a difference. A good essay will help you; a bad essay will hurt you. Not having an essay probably won't hurt you, but it definitely won't help you. And furthermore, what's right for one person (or application) is not necessarily right for another.

    Common sense, people.
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  • israrubisrarub 89 replies31 threads Junior Member
    They actually don't "expect or require" an additional essay which basically means that they don't want to read other stuff because they have enough of commonapp essays to read...
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  • crfcaiocrfcaio 171 replies14 threads Junior Member
    I would like to know something about the supp essay - what is the word limit? In the Supplement page, there's nothing mentioning it. Does it mean I can write a 3-page essay? What is recommended, 500 words like the Common App one?

    Thank you!
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  • claudeturpinclaudeturpin 62 replies0 threads Junior Member
    As I said, my son didn't write one and got in, despite having no hooks. The only reason to write a supplemental essay is if you feel your common app essay could have been better.
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  • JimmykudoJimmykudo 66 replies21 threads Junior Member
    "I would like to know something about the supp essay - what is the word limit? In the Supplement page, there's nothing mentioning it. Does it mean I can write a 3-page essay? What is recommended, 500 words like the Common App one?

    Thank you!"

    I totally like the question XD what's the answer to it?
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  • imntwoimntwo 124 replies2 threads Junior Member
    My son used every opportunity to make his case. Maybe some students think their case is made sufficiently without the supplemental, but those students must be few and far between. So few and far between that anyone who suggests otherwise sets off my **** alarm. Claude, you're saying that the only reason to write a supplemental is if you blew the common app essay? Why not improve your common app essay? My son had several different dimensions of interests and experiences that he wanted to highlight and it wasn't all possible in one word-constrained essay.
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  • JimmykudoJimmykudo 66 replies21 threads Junior Member
    ^ I agree
    with the one above me
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  • gibbygibby 10532 replies246 threads Senior Member
    "The only reason to write a supplemental essay is if you feel your common app essay could have been better." -- claudeturpin

    That's simply not true! A good supplemental essay tells an Admissions Committee something else about yourself that they could not have learned elsewhere in your application. For example, my daughter's Common App essay was about her curiosity about religion, and the fact that her family raised her basically as an agnostic. Her supplemental essay was about overcoming stage fright and her passion for theater and feeling at home being in the spotlight. Her 150 word extracurricular activity essay was about being the flyer on her cheerleading squad and the strange looks she got in the hallway because cheerleading was looked down upon at her school. Submitting three distinct essays allowed her present a fuller picture of herself to Harvard's Admissions Committee -- and it worked.
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  • claudeturpinclaudeturpin 62 replies0 threads Junior Member
    Gibby: The fact that your daughter wrote a supplemental essay and the fact that she got in aren't necessarily connected. If the adcom felt that a supplemental essay would significantly improve your chances of admission, don't you think they'd be honest enough to say so? In reality, they come quite close to discouraging it.
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  • claudeturpinclaudeturpin 62 replies0 threads Junior Member
    Imntwo: It seems a little over the top to suggest that people who disagree with you are ****. Plenty of colleges require a supplemental essay; Harvard doesn't and there's a reason for that. Here's what the Harvard supplement actually says: "Occasionally, students feel that college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about themselves or their accomplishments." The use of the word "occasionally" is significant. Unless you think the admissions committee is being completely disingenuous, the reality appears to be that in most cases a supplemental essay doesn't make a big difference.

    Beyond that, I think we need to take a step back as parents and ask whether obsessing about such a small part of the application package is healthy for our kids. My son applied to nine colleges, only two of which didn't require a supplemental essay (thank you Middlebury and Harvard!). The supplemental essays significantly increased the pressure of the application process and by the time my son completed them he was pretty much burned out, as were most of his friends. In light of the fact that that even the best and the brightest have a less than ten percent chance of being admitted to Harvard, does it really make sense to spend a lot of time and energy on something that probably won't make a difference?

    As I said, write a great common app essay and be done with it.
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  • gibbygibby 10532 replies246 threads Senior Member
    claudeturpin: Many kids, like yours, get admitted to Harvard without submitting a supplemental essay. While a number of kids, like mine, also get admitted with one. I was responding to your post where you were suggesting that the only reason to write a supplemental essay was if your common app essay sucked -- and I was essentially calling that response BS.

    Call me cynical, but I think one of the reasons that Harvard does not require a supplemental essay, while every single one of it's peers (YPSM) requires one, is to boost it's applicant numbers. I'm sure thousands of applicants just throw in an application because it doesn't require any extra thought to do so.
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  • waiting12345waiting12345 36 replies0 threads Junior Member
    Write a supplemental essay if you want to show another aspect of yourself to admissions. Make it no longer than 1 page.
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  • claudeturpinclaudeturpin 62 replies0 threads Junior Member
    That does seem pretty cynical, Gibby, especially in the absence of any evidence whatsoever that there's a correlation between increased applications and eliminating the requirement of a supplemental essay. In fact, the evidence on that issue is pretty equivocal. Columbia, which requires a number of short supplemental essays, saw a 32% increase in applications, while Middlebury, which recently did away with the supplemental essay, saw an increase of only 6%.

    Isn't a far more likely reason for the increase in Harvard's applications last year the phenomenal financial aid that it provides? And isn't it just possible that Harvard's position on the supplemental essay is based, not on a cynical desire to increase its number of applicants, but rather on the fact that requiring a supplemental essay increases the burden on both the student and the adcom and, in the words of the Middlebury Admissions Director, actually provides the admissions committee with very little useful additional information? You have to remember that, even without a supplemental essay, these schools receive a mountain of information about the applicant. To think that a supplemental essay makes a difference in all but a few marginal cases just doesn't make sense.

    The real pity is that threads like this contribute to the perception that the supplemental essay is a make-or-break proposition. (If you want proof of that, just read Samonuh's post above). And I think we parents bear a large measure of responsibility for that. We have made getting into Harvard (or another Ivy) akin to the pursuit of the Holy Grail. And, to support this ridiculous obsession, we go onto threads like this and make completely unsupported statements like the poster above who said that the number of students who don't write a supplemental essay is "few and far between."

    Sorry to challenge the conventional wisdom here, folks, but the reality is that, unless you're right on the edge, you're better off submitting a good common app essay and then relaxing and spending your spare time with your family and friends.
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  • gibbygibby 10532 replies246 threads Senior Member
    ^^^ "Isn't a far more likely reason for the increase in Harvard's applications last year the phenomenal financial aid that it provides?"

    No. Harvard's financial aid policy has not changed since 2008, so last year's increase in applicant numbers is unrelated to Harvard's financial aid policy. Although, it may be related to the stagnate US economy.

    BTW: In the last several days, Harvard rebalanced it's financial aid policy for the class of 2016 -- boosting aid for the lower end, but decreasing it for the higher end -- so next year will be an interesting year to watch. See: Harvard increases financial aid to low-income students | Harvard Gazette
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  • HarvardParentHarvardParent 181 replies3 threads Junior Member
    Columbia is a special case last year. The huge increase in applications is due to the switch to common application for the first time in school history.
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  • gibbygibby 10532 replies246 threads Senior Member
    ^^ Agreed. See: No Way: Columbia receives 34,587 undergrad applications (UPDATED) | Spectrum

    We attribute this continued and growing interest in Columbia to a variety of factors, including . . . our first-year membership with The Common Application.
    --- Jessica Marinaccio, Dean of Columbia Undergraduate Admissions
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