Should I repeat myself in Caltech supplements?

I wrote my Common App essay about BMX biking. I also added it as an activity on my common app because it is my favorite hobby and I do it a lot. One of Caltech’s “optional” supplementals is “When not surveying the stars, peering through microscopes, or running through marathons of coding, Caltech students pursue an eclectic array of interests that range from speedcubing to participating in varsity athletics to reading romance novels. What is a favorite interest or hobby and why does it bring you joy?” The obvious answer to this is BMX biking, my favorite hobby, but I think it would be redundant to write about it again after already writing about it in my essay. I was thinking about taking a new outlook on it but I’m still a little bit afraid of being too repetitive. My only other real hobbies are improving my typing speed on Typeracer and playing video games. I don’t think either of these are as interesting as BMX.

Yes, don’t repeat. Show another part of you, giving them more evidence you belong.

What’s the length ? Could you use that common app essay here and redo your regular essay ? You might even have a different supplemental for another school you can bring over as your regular essay.

Is your current essay about how it brings you joy and y ? If so, swapping might be smart.

Good luck.

I agree, you may want to swap. The “what brings you joy?” essay is important - it’s a chance to show a different side of your personality. If you’re able to express your love of BMX biking this is the place to do it.

Try and find a different topic for the common app essay.

You don’t need to use the same main essay for all common app schools. You can write a different one for Caltech and use the BMX biking one for the question you highlight. Then for other schools you can use the BMX essay for the main essay. Just double and triple check that you swapped things out correctly before hitting submit.

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Caltech, like most other colleges, wants to know more about you through your essays. However, unlike most other colleges, it really wants to know your passion for STEM and where that passion came from. Your BMX essay may be very interesting but it’s unlikely to serve that purpose. So I agree with the other posters that you should use your BMX essay as a supplemental essay and write a new main/Common App essay for Caltech.

The essay OP is talking about is an optional 100 word essay.

Applicants’ STEM interests are covered in these FIVE required essays:

  • Why did you choose that area of interest? (200 words, after the two intended area of interest questions)

  • At Caltech, we investigate some of the most challenging, fundamental problems in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Identify and describe two STEM-related experiences from your high school years, either in or out of the classroom, and tell us how and why they activated your curiosity. What about them made you want to learn more and explore further? Then two required essays…STEM experience/activity #1 (200 words) and STEM experience/activity #2 (200 words)

  • The creativity, inventiveness, and innovation of Caltech’s students, faculty, and researchers have won Nobel Prizes and put rovers on Mars, but Techers also imagine smaller scale innovations every day, from new ways to design solar cells to 3D printing dorm decor. How have you been an innovator in your own life? (250 words)

  • The process of discovery is best advanced when people from diverse backgrounds come together to solve the greatest challenges in their fields. How do your past experiences and present-day perspectives inform who you have become and how you navigate the world? (250 words).

So, OP can’t swap in their BMX essay for the 100 word optional essay. IMO it would be ok to discuss the BMX hobby for another 100 words, but also ok to say something else (even non-STEM). For example, OP could write that they play videogames to decompress, or meet interesting people, or write 100 more detailed words about any one of their ECs in the Activity section.


The length is 100 words. I’m probably not changing my common app essay - I don’t have the time to write a new one before the REA deadline and I think my essay is really good. Everyone I’ve shown it to has loved it including my English teacher.

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I doubt that the activity has to be STEM. I honestly don’t have any recreational STEM activities, unless you include trying to improve my typing speed. I wrote about BMX again from a different angle. I’m just scared that I’ll come off as too obsessed about one thing, and that I have no other interests.

It will be fine. (I’m assuming you wrote five good required essays most of which are focused on STEM.)

Thanks. I’ve also got another supplement on improving my typing speed. Would it be better to use that one instead of the BMX one?

Is it a favorite job or hobby and/or does it bring you joy?

That may seem silly with typing - but I fondly remember my 7th grade typing class as the most important class I’ve ever taken.


I still fondly remember Mr. R belting out the instructions. But you have to tie the joy in right or no one would believe it.

is this for my supplement or for my common app? the supplement for Caltech is only 100 words so I don’t think I have time to be so grandiose

Personally I probably wouldn’t repeat the topic. Everyone says that schools want to see different sides of you and your interests. I recommend the College Essay Journal. It’s super helpful in figuring out what to write. You’d easily have another 100 word topic/essay figured out if you get the book and do the activities.

My son attended Caltech.

The essays have to show your passion.

If BMX is your passion, then write about it, but I would do it from the viewpoint of the ride.

ex: “I take the hill as the soggy mud sprays my helmet and shirt. I quickly try to wipe the goggles making another turn, etc.”
See what I’m saying?

It is all about fit with your class as well as the previous classes. You have to “get it” and their way of thinking.
Please remember that it is a “research institution”. It will not give you that traditional college experience. You’re expected to know the difference.

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I’ve done exactly this in my Common App essay. I was considering using the supplemental 100-word essay about my favorite hobby to write about how BMX helped me change as a person. Would that fit well?

My 2 cents is it is key to show/talk about a different aspect of bmx biking if you can.

Also, if it feels right, you might start with something along the lines of, " While I do have other interests (video games, challenging myself to increase my typing speed), my overriding passion is bmx biking"

Applying REA to Caltech too - since they have so many STEM essays, it shouldn’t be an issue to talk about non-STEM personality-developing experiences in the common app essay, right? I wrote my commonapp about how I grew through my instrument, since I plan for my 5 required supplementals to highlight all the important STEM experiences I have.