How is the SAT Scored? Your Complete Guide

Scoring on the SAT: What You Need to Know

Scoring on the SAT: Your Ultimate Guide

What does scoring on the SAT look like?

Most importantly, what do you need to know to get your highest score yet?

If you're taking the SAT for first time, you've likely already asked these questions. You might have already visited our post on what counts as a good SAT score.

We're here to answer all of your SAT scoring questions (and more).

Here's what we cover in this detailed post:

Scoring on the SAT: The Basics

The SAT is scored on a scale of 400-1600.

This means that SAT test-takers can earn a maximum score of 1600 and a minimum of 400 on the test. This composite score is a combination of students’ Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math section scores.

SAT Section Score Range
Evidence-Based Reading and Writing 200-800
Math 200-800

The SAT Reading and Writing Score

There are two verbal tests on the SAT:

  • Evidence-Based Reading
  • Writing and Language

A student’s scores on both tests are combined into an Evidence-based Reading and Writing section score on a scale of 200 - 800. The Verbal section score does not include the SAT essay.

How is this Reading and Writing score calculated?

First, the SAT test graders calculate a student’s test score on each of the two tests. This test score is on a scale of 10-40 and depends on the number of questions a student gets correct on each test.

This conversion from a student’s SAT raw to scaled score varies from SAT to SAT: in just a moment we will explain why.

SAT test graders then multiply these two test scores by 10 and add the results to get the student’s Reading and Writing score.

SAT Verbal Score Calculation (1)

Here’s an example.

Let’s say that a student scored a 28 on the Evidence-Based Reading section and a 31 on the Writing and Language section. Multiplied by 10, these would equate to a 280 (EBR) and 310 (WL), or a 590 Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score.

The SAT Math Score

There are two math tests on the new SAT: a shorter No-Calculator test and a longer Calculator test.

SAT test graders calculate how many total questions a student gets right on both of these tests. They then convert this raw score to a sectional score by using a test-specific algorithm.

(Unlike the Reading and Writing score calculation, there’s no multiplying by 10.)

This conversion from raw to scaled scores varies from test to test. On SAT Math, a student can earn a minimum section score of 400 and a maximum of 800.

SAT Math Score Calculation (1)

Here’s an example of the SAT math score calculation in action.

Let’s say that a student gets 15 questions right on the No-Calculator Math test and 27 questions right on the Calculator Math test. This equates to 42 correct questions total (out of 58).

Depending on the SAT, this could convert to a Math section score between 630 and 700.

The SAT Essay Score

The SAT essay is the fifth and final section of the test. It is optional, and after the June 2021 SAT administration, it will no longer be a part of the test. (Here are our thoughts on whether or not you should still take it if you plan to test before then.)

A student’s SAT essay score does not impact their Reading and Writing score.

Unlike the rest of the test, the SAT essay does not have a composite score. Two separate readers analyze students’ essays. They give each student a score between 1 and 4 for three categories: reading, analysis, and writing.

The SAT test graders then add these two sets of scores together per category. Students can thus receive a score of 2 - 8 on each of the three categories.

The SAT Bell Curve: Does It Exist?

In this article, we’ve discussed the fact that SAT score conversions vary from test to test.

There’s a myth out there that these mysterious conversions depend on student performance on each individual SAT. In other words, if everyone else does fairly well on a given SAT, this is bad news for test-takers who struggled with the exam (and vice versa).

This is entirely untrue. Individual test scores have nothing to do with overall student performance. The SAT bell curve does not exist!

However, it’s virtually impossible to create SATs with identical difficulty but different content. For this reason, the CollegeBoard uses a process called “equating” to adjust scores based off of each test’s difficulty. In their words:

To make sure a section score from any SAT is equivalent to that same section score from any other SAT, regardless of its level of difficulty, we use a method called “equating.” Equating is a universally accepted statistical process used for all standardized tests. It ensures that scores are fair and valid for all test takers.

What does this mean?

Getting 35 Math questions right on one test may result in a different score than getting 35 Math questions right on another. But, the CollegeBoard emphasizes, this still results in a fair score.

In the next session, we display a comparison of two previously administered SATs that proves this point.

Sample SAT Scoring Chart

Source: The College Board Practice Tests #1 and #3

Notice how 35 correct Math questions on Test 1 equated to a 570. On Test 3, the same number of correct Math questions resulted in a 610. Roughly speaking, Test 1’s Math sections were likely easier than Test 3’s.

Conversely, 30 correct Writing and Language questions on Test 1 equated to a test score of 29. On Test 3, the same number of correct questions resulted in a 30.

Can you predict the difficulty levels of SATs? No. Nor should you hold out hope for an “easy” SAT.

In fact, an "easy" SAT does not guarantee a higher score. On easy SATs, more test-takers will answer more questions correctly. This means those high-difficulty questions will be worth more.

But you can prepare for difficult SAT questions in your test prep journey. You can also prepare to take the test at least twice to maximize your odds of achieving your highest score.

SAT Percentiles

There’s one more aspect to scoring on the SAT that parents and students should emphasize throughout their test prep: SAT percentiles.

When students receive their SAT score reports, they will also receive percentages based on their performance. Students receive sectional percentiles and composite percentiles.

These are quite different from high school percentages, which often translate directly to how many questions students got right.

SAT percentiles reflect the percentage of test-takers an individual student out-performed.

An SAT composite percentile of 77%, for example, signifies that a test-taker earned a higher score than 77% of all students who took that particular test.

Percentiles are important, especially when assessing eligibility for more competitive colleges. When it comes to test prep, however, it is often more valuable to establish a goal score range rather than a goal percentile range.

Average SAT Scores

Here are the average SAT scores from the last two years of SAT administration. As you can see, SAT averages are actually declining.

SAT Score National Averages for the Class of 2020:

  • Reading and Writing: 528
  • Math: 523
  • Total: 1051

SAT Score National Averages for the Class of 2019

  • Reading and Writing: 531
  • Math: 528
  • Total: 1059

Source: The CollegeBoard: 2019 Report and 2020 Report

Scoring on the SAT: Where This Leaves You

There you have it: your complete guide to scoring on the SAT. So what happens next?

1. Set a goal score before beginning SAT test prep.

It’s vital to have a goal score or percentile in mind prior to starting SAT test prep. Doing so can help students more efficiently prioritize specific content areas and strategies. It can also give your test prep journey trajectory and focus.

Some students begin their SAT test prep with a goal score in mind. Others may have no idea what score range to aim for, especially if they are still fleshing out their list of colleges.

Students who have already taken the PSAT, administered to high school sophomores, can refer to their PSAT score report for assessing goals and percentiles. Those who have yet to take the PSAT should begin with a diagnostic SAT practice test.

2. Practice questions of all difficulty levels.

The notion of an SAT bell curve can understandably make students anxious!

However, it is possible to succeed on the SAT despite this curve. It all begins with test prep. Increasing your fluency in all kinds of practice questions, including the most challenging ones, can help combat test fluctuations.

We also strongly recommend that students take the SAT officially at least twice.

3. Understand what a good SAT score looks like.

While a “good SAT score” is a relative phrase, students should have a sense of competitive SAT scoring before they start preparing for the exam.

So, what does a good SAT score look like? Is there such a thing as a “bad” SAT score? What should be your goal SAT score?

We answer all of these questions and more in our comprehensive guide to good SAT scores.

Students can also work with our SAT experts to establish a goal score and concrete steps for achieving it!


Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.

SAT Reading Tips to Get a Perfect Score_PrepMaven

16 Easy SAT Reading Tips to Get a Perfect Score in 2023

16 Easy SAT Reading Tips to Get a Perfect Score in 2023

Bonus Material: 8 Extra SAT Reading Hacks from the Experts

What SAT Reading tips do you need to get a perfect score?

We get asked this question a lot.

The SAT Reading test is the first section of the SAT. With this section, students have a little over an hour to complete 52 questions associated with 5 passages.

This is a tough section for many reasons, but the good news is that a perfect SAT Reading score is in range for students who apply the right strategies and prepare accordingly. 

In this post, we offer 16 easy, expert SAT Reading tips for getting a perfect score on this section. We also have an additional 8 SAT Reading hacks, which you can download below!

Note: this article is about the paper version of the SAT, which will be phased out in 2024. For our breakdown of the new, Digital SAT, check out our comprehensive post here.

Here’s what we cover in this post:

16 Easy SAT Reading Tips to Get a Perfect Score

Tip #1: Familiarize yourself with this strategy-based section

Many students preparing for the SAT assume that the reading section is just that: a section that requires test-takers to read some stuff and answer questions about it.

That is only partially true. 

In fact, the Evidence-Based Reading section is a bit more complex than that. It has a wide variety of reading passages, for one thing, a strict time limit, and tough questions. 

The first thing you should do on your path to a perfect SAT Reading score is understand exactly what this section looks like in terms of the following:

  • Format
  • Scoring
  • Strategy


The SAT Reading section is first in the lineup of sections on the SAT.

Here are the nuts and bolts of the SAT Reading section’s format:

  • Time limit: 65 minutes
  • Questions: 52
  • Passages: 5 (one of these is a dual passage)
  • Genres of passages: History, social science, natural science, literary narrative

The passages can appear in any order, with the exception of literary narrative: that always comes first.

Dual passages, passages that contain two shorter excerpts from different pieces, will always be history, social science, or natural science--never literary narrative.

It’s also worth noting that not all of these passages will be contemporary, meaning that they’ve been written recently. At least one passage will be an “older” text, such as:

  • An excerpt from a nineteenth- or twentieth-century novel
  • A selection from a Federalist paper or other founding document
  • 18th or 19th century speeches


Your SAT Reading score is combined with your SAT Writing & Language score for a total Verbal score of 400-800.

On its own, your SAT Reading score is calculated on a scale of 200-400. Basically, the College Board converts the number of questions you get right on SAT Reading (your raw score) into a scaled score of 200-400.

This conversion process is different for every test, due to the fact that no SAT is the same. But it is possible to approximate the relationship between raw and scaled scores.

For example, based on our assessment of the raw score conversion tables for the College Board’s officially released SAT practice tests, we can conclude that students need to get X questions right on SAT Reading to earn a “perfect” score.

That’s right--you don’t have to get every single question right in order to earn a perfect SAT Reading score

This has to do with the College Board’s “equating process,” the process it uses to convert raw scores into scaled scores based on that exam’s difficulty.


The SAT Reading section is the only section on the SAT that doesn’t require outside content knowledge. That’s both good and bad news.

The good news is that you don’t have to memorize author names, texts, or dates for this section. You don’t even have to study a lot of vocabulary, necessarily.

The bad news is that you’ve got to learn and implement strategy on this section. For many students, this is an unfamiliar component of test-taking. In a typical high school English classroom, students aren’t tested on their capacity to be strategic test-takers.

But the good news in that bad news is the fact that there are a lot of tried and true strategies out there for succeeding on SAT Reading, many of which we discuss in this post.

What’s more, if you find yourself bringing in outside knowledge to answer an SAT Reading question, that’s a sign that you’re veering towards a wrong answer choice. All of your information should come from the passage, and the passage alone.

Before you keep reading, we recommend that you check out these other 5 things you should know about SAT Reading.

Tip #2: Start by knowing where you stand

Before you start prepping, it’s vital to take an SAT practice test if you haven’t done so already. 

Taking an official practice test under test-like conditions will give you the most accurate reading of where you currently stand on SAT Reading.

A diagnostic score report can also be very revealing in terms of the following:

  • Timing
  • Accuracy with passage and question types
  • Testing habits

Find all officially released practice SATs and advice on self-proctoring a diagnostic test here

After you take your first SAT practice test, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which passages did I have higher accuracy on? Least accuracy?
  • Where might timing have been an issue?
  • What types of questions am I missing consistently? What types am I acing?

Answering these questions can be helpful for establishing goals in your SAT Reading prep. They can also be helpful for pinpointing where your strengths lie on this section (a key point we discuss in Tip #5).

Tip #3: Establish a realistic timeline for increasing your score

Some students assume they can cram for the SAT and boost their score that way. Unfortunately, this is not a solid strategy for earning a perfect score on any SAT section.

SAT test prep takes time. We encourage students to set aside at least three months--and often many more--to prepare for this exam.

This is especially important for SAT Reading, which requires a significant amount of strategy and practice. We discuss SAT goal-setting in more depth in this post here

We also want to reiterate that it’s not necessarily realistic to set your target score as a perfect 400 out the gate, unless you are already very close to this number. Establish incremental goals that can get you closer to that perfect score over time.

When establishing these goals, it can be helpful to think in terms of number of questions correct (as opposed to the scaled score itself). 

For example, if you get 35 questions right on your first SAT Reading section, a reasonable goal would be to get 40 questions right on the next round (then 45, 50, etc.). Think about maximizing your raw score (the questions you get right) and this will maximize your scaled score.

Tip #4: Think like the test-makers, not a test-taker

The test-makers design the SAT Reading section to be challenging. They want students to fall for trap answers and use their time inefficiently. They want students to answer questions in predictable ways.

That’s why it’s important to think strategically on SAT Reading. Be on the lookout for ways that the SAT is trying to trick you--the more you can anticipate these traps, the more likely you are to not fall for them! 

Here’s one example.

The literary narrative passage is always the first passage on SAT Reading. At first glance, this passage sounds easy-peasy. Fiction? Characters? Dialogue? Cool!

But on second glance, the questions associated with this passage are detail-oriented and time-consuming. Many students who start with this passage end up losing a lot of time, especially if the passage is from an older literary text, like Pride and Prejudice.

You guessed it: the test-makers do this for a reason. They want you to waste your time on this first passage so you have limited time to get to the others! The predictable test-taker will do this passage first.

The savvy test-taker will not.

Tip #5: Identify where your strengths lie and always play to these

There is no wrong answer penalty on the SAT. This means that students do not lose points when they answer a question incorrectly.

They simply do not gain any points. 

For this reason, there’s no harm in guessing! Students should never leave answers blank on SAT Reading. 

Every question is also worth the same amount of points on each individual section of the SAT. There is no point value difference between an easy SAT Reading question and a hard one.

Make your life easier from the outset by prioritizing what is easier for you in terms of:

  • SAT Reading passages
  • Questions

For example, if you consistently have high accuracy on questions associated with Science passages on the SAT Reading section, start with those passages. If you always nail Words in Context questions, do those first for every passage.

Save the harder passages and questions for the end--or for guessing. Beginning with your strengths on SAT Reading is the surest way to guide you closer to a high score.

Want even more SAT Reading tips? Check out these additional hacks from the experts.

Tip #6: Boost your fluency in SAT Reading question types

In line with Tip #5, it’s important to recognize the different types of questions you’ll encounter on SAT Reading.

This fluency will help you pinpoint your strengths and cater to these. It can also clue you in to the predictability of SAT Reading. It will have the same types of questions every time, after all. 

And each question type will have its own predictability, especially in terms of wrong answer choices.

Here are the types of questions you can expect to find on SAT Reading:

  • Words in Context
  • Command of Evidence
  • Function / Purpose
  • Main Ideas
  • Detail or Line Reference
  • Inference
  • Charts & graphs

Words in Context

These questions ask students to choose a word or idea similar in meaning to a word or idea used in the passage, as in this example here from the College Board's Official SAT Practice Test #1:

Command of Evidence

These ask students to select a line reference in the passage that best supports their answer to the previous question. Students can expect to encounter 8-10 of these on SAT Reading.

Function / Purpose

Function or Purpose questions are interested in a student's knowledge of the purpose of a part of the passage, whether that's a line, word, paragraph, idea, or passage as a whole.

Main Ideas

These questions are all about main ideas of passages as a whole, a series of lines, or paragraphs.

Detail or Line Reference

Detail or Line Reference questions ask test-takers about specific details in the passage, often with a line reference attached. On the literary narrative passage, these often concern character analysis.


An inference is a logical conclusion one can make from presented evidence. With Inference questions on SAT Reading, students must make a logical inference based off of a specific part of the passage.

Charts & Graphs

This question type always surprises students. Why do figures and charts appear on SAT Reading, a verbal section? Good question! It's all part of the SAT's effort to test a student's ability to synthesize many different types of information.

Luckily, these questions aren't normally too difficult. Some can be answered without even reading the passage. Others depend on a working understanding of a passage's main idea(s).

Tip #7: Recognize typical wrong answer choices

The more you can learn to recognize typical wrong answer choices, the greater your odds are of avoiding these traps on SAT Reading.

Some common wrong answer choices include:

  • “Extreme” answers, which often include words like never or always
  • Inferences that go too far beyond the passage
  • Distortion of details or keywords from the passage
  • Verbiage that sounds “nice” but can’t be backed with passage evidence
  • References to outside knowledge

Notice a common thread in these? You guessed it -- wrong answer choices are wrong because they can't be supported with direct evidence from the passage.

Students should thus get in the habit of identifying evidence in the passage for every answer choice they select, not just for Command of Evidence questions. That's why it's called the Evidence-Based Reading section!

Tip #8: Don’t get lost in those answer choices, by the way

This is one of the most important SAT Reading tips we pass along to our students. Many test-takers get in the habit of reading through all of the answer choices before coming up with an answer to a question.

Don’t do this! This increases your odds of getting sidetracked by a “shiny” trap answer.

We recommend reading the question first, researching your answer in the passage, making a prediction, and then eliminating answers that don’t match your prediction. 

Tip #9: Divide and conquer on the dual passage

Don’t forget that one of the 5 SAT Reading passages includes a dual passage. This means students will have to read two smaller passages in one, and answer questions about both.

Instead of reading through these two passages before getting to the questions, divide and conquer! Make your life easier by tackling only one passage at a time.

  • Take a look at the questions
  • Tackle the passage that has the most questions first
  • Answer questions for that passage
  • Tackle the other passage and its respective questions
  • Complete questions about both passages

This strategy means that you only have to think about both passages at once for the questions that concern both (arguably the harder questions on the dual passage).

Want even more SAT Reading tips? Check out these additional hacks from the experts.

Tip #10: Annotate, annotate, annotate

SAT Reading passages are complex, dense, and boring. Maintain focus by annotating when you engage with any passage.

What does it mean to annotate?

Pay attention to main ideas as you work a passage. Jot down the main idea for every paragraph in the margins, circle words you recognize from the questions, and underline anything that feels relevant.

Students should focus less on details. They should prioritize big picture ideas and arguments as they annotate, as SAT Reading questions are most interested in these.

These notes can be extremely valuable later on as students answer questions, providing a specific road map for passage ideas (and ultimately answers).

Tip #11: Think in terms of main ideas

This tip goes hand-in-hand with #10. It’s important to consider main ideas when reading an SAT passage.

But it’s equally important to answer questions with these main ideas in mind. In fact, in many cases, it’s possible to employ process of elimination based on which answers are in line with the passage’s central claim, and which aren’t.

In this question, for example, test-takers should first consider the main idea of the paragraph that houses these lines. Odds are that the answer to this question has something to do with that main idea!

Tip #12: Be literal

Once again, this is one of the most important SAT Reading tips we pass along to our students.

Every correct answer to every SAT Reading question can be found in the passage itself. This means that students should be very cautious if they find themselves making assumptions, huge inferences, or other logical leaps.

Approach questions literally! Work only with what you see in the passage and in the question stem. Be very skeptical of answer choices that lead you away from these two things.

Tip #13: Read while you prep

Students will encounter a wide range of passages on SAT Reading, including some genres they might not regularly read.

These especially include older literature and primary documents, scientific articles, and speeches.

That’s why we encourage students to have a reading list on hand as they prepare for this difficult section. This doesn’t have to be intensive! 

It could be as simple as subscribing to a publication like The Economist, reading an article in a scientific journal that interests you, or working through a chapter of Jane Eyre a week.

For added practice, mentally paraphrase the main ideas of what you’re reading--or even annotate!

Tip #14: Prioritize accuracy over quantity

Accustomed to having to answer every question on a high school test, many test-takers race through SAT Reading. They try to answer every question, even if some of these answers are guesses.

This is not a strategy to embrace on SAT Reading or the test as a whole. Speed often leads to inaccuracy. Students are more likely to earn a higher score in general if they prioritize getting more questions right rather than answered.

Playing to your strengths and embracing a guessing strategy can help with this. The same goes for regularly assessing your progress via practice tests, which we discuss in Tip #16. 

Tip #15: Don’t forget about Writing & Language

Your SAT Verbal score consists of your SAT Reading score and Writing and Language score. As you think about boosting your SAT score, don’t forget this crucial point.

If you’re aiming for a perfect or near-perfect score on SAT Verbal, it’s important to devote equal prep time to this other section. 

While the passages on Writing & Language aren’t nearly as complex as those on SAT Reading, your prep on these two sections can be complementary. About 50% of questions on Writing & Language concern your understanding of context, main ideas, and logical argument.

We recommend starting by learning these 13 grammar rules tested on Writing & Language, if you haven't done so already.

Tip #16: Practice close to the source, and practice often

When it comes to standardized test prep, it’s important to utilize practice materials that are as close to the source as possible.

What does this mean? Begin by working with College Board prep materials, as this is the company that produces the SAT. You can find all 10 official College Board practice tests here.

We also encourage students to create a study plan prior to prepping for any section of the SAT. This study plan should include regular, timed practice tests.

Frequent practice tests are vital for SAT Reading prep, given that this section has a particularly tight time limit, and success depends on a variety of strategies we've discussed in this post.

Download 8 Additional SAT Reading Hacks

Want more help on SAT Reading? We've put together 8 of our very best SAT Reading hacks in addition to the awesome tips in this post.

SAT Reading Tips and Hacks

Here's what you'll get:

  • 8 of our very best SAT Reading Hacks
  • Examples from official SAT practice tests


Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.

SSAT Analogies_PrepMaven

SSAT Analogies Practice: 5 Strategies & 3 Drills

SSAT Analogies Practice: 5 Strategies & 3 Drills

Bonus Material: SSAT Analogies Practice Drills

The SSAT Verbal section has 60 questions. The first 30 are SSAT Synonym questions, while questions 31-60 are SSAT Analogies.

The key to succeeding on Analogy questions lies in your capacity to identify specific relationships. Each question will provide students with two words that demonstrate a certain relationship.

Students must then select the choice that best reflects that relationship, thus completing the meaning of the sentence.

In this post, we walk students through our 5 strategies for approaching SSAT Analogies. We also give readers access to free SSAT Analogies practice, which you can download now.

Here's what we cover:

5 Strategies for SSAT Analogies

Here's our general strategy for approaching an Analogy question on SSAT Verbal:

  1. Identify the specific relationship between the two question words
  2. Search for the answer that shows the same relationship
  3. Eliminate accordingly

Sounds easy, right? Well, not necessarily. It can be really tough to identify a specific relationship, particularly between words you don't know (or only have partial meanings for).

Those answer choices will also be chock-full of associative words, terms or pairs that might have a similar connotation but not necessarily similar relationship.

That's where the following 5 strategies come into play.

#1: Start noticing Analogy categories.

Every SSAT Analogy question presents a specific relationship between the two ideas presented. As you continue to work with these questions, start noticing the various "categories" of these relationships, such as size (one word is smaller than another), time (one thing happens before another), or cause and effect (one thing causes another).

Take a look at this sample Analogy question and see if you can identify the "category" of the relationship presented:

Gargantuan is to big as:
A) hot is to steamy
B) thirsty is to dry
C) pleasant is to melody
D) clumsy is to coordinated
E) ecstatic is to happy

If you guessed a relationship of degree or size, you're correct! Gargantuan is a larger or more extreme version of big. Their relationship is one of degree, making E the correct answer (ecstatic is a more extreme version of happy).

"Degree" is an example of just one “category” of relationships you will start to see in the Analogy section. Just as there isn’t a finite list of words on the Synonyms section, there is no complete list of categories for the Analogy section. 

However, the list below gives some common relationship categories we’ve seen on SSAT practice tests:

  • Location
  • Time
  • Size
  • Material
  • Part and Whole
  • Example and General Category
  • Cause and Effect
  • Synonyms
  • Antonyms
  • Degrees
  • Actor and Action
  • Product and Producer
  • Tool and User
  • Tool and Use

This can be essential as an elimination strategy, too. Once you've identified the category of the relationship, you can eliminate any answer choices that fit other relationship categories.

Let’s apply this principle to the following questions. We’ve left the answer choices out here so that you can focus only on the relationship between the two question words.

  1. Lukewarm is to boiling as


  1. Potable is to water as


  1. Socks are to shoes as


  1. Foreign is to domestic as


  1. Botany is to plants as


  1. Soldier is to military as


  1. Tailor is to fabric as


  1. Scene is to play as


  1. Debris is to purity as


  1. Limb is to body as


#2: Create a specific relationship sentence for the question words.

Much as we encourage students to put Synonym words into their own sentences, we also recommend crafting a "relationship sentence" for SSAT Analogy question words. You can then eliminate answer choices that don't "fit" the sentence.

When creating this sentence, try to be as specific as possible.

Using the above sample question, for example, a relationship sentence like “If you’re gargantuan, you’re big” is too broad – if you plug in the answer choices, they might all sound right! “Gargantuan is a stronger version of big” is more specific and will lead you to the correct answer.

Let’s apply this principle to the following questions. We’ve left the answer choices out here so that you can focus only on the relationship between the two question words.

  1. Clasp is to necklace as



  1. Teacher is to educator as



  1. Spectators is to audience as



  1. Disparage is to commend as



  1. Sad is to devastated as



#3: Eliminate answer choices that have no relationship or are "conditional."

The right answer to an Analogy question will demonstrate the specific relationship of the question words. If you can’t establish a relationship between two words, that answer choice is automatically wrong! The same goes for any answer choices that may show a conditional relationship, one that is only true some of the time.

Here’s a sample question that proves this point:

Insult is to offense as:
A) laugh is to joy
B) fabricate is to falsehood
C) injure is to prepare
D) innocent is to child
E) forge is to creation

In choice C, “injure” and “prepare” have no relationship, so you can eliminate C immediately. Similarly, a "child" may be "innocent," but not necessarily 100% of the time (it depends on the child, the definition of innocent, etc.). You can eliminate D as well.

Can you spot the answer choices in the following question that have no relationship or are conditional?

  1. Mindful is to ignorant as
  1. complete is to acceptable
  2. shack is to palace
  3. novel is to idea
  4. amiable is to friendly
  5. road is to highway

#4: Focus on relationships, not synonyms.

It can be really easy, especially if you tackle SSAT Synonym questions first, to start identifying synonyms for the Analogy words rather than relationships. As best you can, remind yourself that your task on this set is to classify the relationship between the words presented and select an answer choice that reflects a similar relationship.

On the plus side, those answer choices that contain synonyms to words in the question are most likely incorrect. So if you do spot some synonyms in the answers, be very skeptical.

#5: Think of all possible relationships.

You may find that some questions have multiple reasonable answers. If this is the case, try to think of additional possible relationships between the question words. Here is a sample question that demonstrates this:

Carousel is to horse as:
A) hospital is to waiting room
B) anthology is to story
C) sun is to planet
D) bike is to wheel
E) fleet is to ship

At first glance, you might feel stuck with this question. A “horse” is a “part” of a “carousel.” With this relationship in mind, don’t multiple answer choices here fit the “whole and part” category?

However, if you think of additional ways to specify the relationship, you could reach the correct answer by reasoning that the horses revolve around a carousel just as a planet orbits the sun. Correct Answer: C.

With these tips in mind, let's work through this sample Analogy question mentioned earlier:

SSAT Verbal Section: Analogies

It will be easiest to craft a relationship sentence with these words. We might say that "an epidemic is the spread of disease." Plugging in the answer choices, we can see that only (A) fits this sentence: "a famine is the spread of hunger." Our answer is (A).

Download Our SSAT Analogies Practice Questions

Now it's your turn to apply these awesome strategies to some SSAT Analogies practice questions. You can download three free practice drills right now if you'd like.

Here's what you'll get:

  • 3 FREE SSAT Analogies Practice Drills
  • Answers to every question

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.

SSAT Synonym Practice _ PrepMaven

SSAT Synonym Practice: 4 Strategies & 3 Drills

SSAT Synonym Practice: 4 Strategies & 3 Drills

Bonus Material: 3 SSAT Synonyms Practice Drills

The SSAT Verbal section has sixty total questions: 30 Synonym questions and 30 Analogy questions.

Synonym questions ask test-takers to select the answer choice closest in meaning to the question word.

These questions can be challenging for SSAT students, especially those who are still building their vocabulary. Yet with some solid strategies and practice in place, test-takers can quickly improve their accuracy on these questions.

In this post, we outline 4 expert strategies for navigating SSAT Synonyms questions. We also give readers access to some free SSAT Synonym practice, in the form of three timed drills. Grab these below.

Here's what we cover:

4 Key Strategies for SSAT Synonym Questions

Synonym questions appear first on SSAT Verbal (questions 1-30). If you feel more confident with these questions, we recommend beginning with these.

If, however, Analogies are more your jam, we recommend starting with question 31 (the first of the Analogy questions set) and completing the Synonyms set second.

Remember: play to your strengths on SSAT Verbal, and prioritize the questions that are easiest for you first.

The key to approaching SSAT Synonym questions successfully lies in remembering that they are just that: Synonym questions.

What do we mean by this?

With Synonym questions, your task is to find the answer choice that is most similar in meaning to the question word.

It's important to remind yourself of this simple fact on each question, as the test-makers love trapping students with answer choices that may be associated with the question word but, in fact, do not share a similar meaning. What's more, a "synonym" is not the same as a straight-up "definition" of a word!

We'll apply these thoughts to this sample Synonym question:

SSAT Upper Level Verbal Section_Synonyms

With this question, students must choose the answer that is most similar in meaning to the word "incognito." This doesn't mean that we're looking for the definition of "incognito," merely a term that most closely matches that definition.

The word "incognito" might suggest someone going undercover, like a ninja in a crowd. Be careful, though: answer choice (D) at first glance looks a lot like "undercover," when, in fact, it means the opposite (uncovered). But the idea of being undercover has a connotation of being hidden from sight, which leads us to answer (C): concealed.

Be careful with answer choice (A), which might be tempting for some students. "Lost" is a good example of an answer that is an association but not necessarily a synonym of a question word. Something that is incognito may not be very visible, but this doesn't mean it is lost.

Here are 4 other strategies for approaching SSAT Synonym questions. We follow each pointer with a guided practice question.

#1: Put the question word into a sentence of your own.

This is an excellent, tried-and-true way to situate a question word in its context, especially if you don't know the full meaning of a term. Put that word into a sentence, even if it's the most basic sentence you've ever written.

Using the sample question above, that sentence might look like this:

The ninja chose to go incognito, moving casually through the crowd without attracting attention.

In this sentence, we can gather that "incognito" is a behavior or attitude of some kind that the ninja adopts in this crowd. Would it make sense for someone to choose to be "lost"? No! "Lost" is not a behavior or attitude, and the same goes for "replaced" or "distinguished."

Context tells us that the ninja is choosing to be somewhat invisible, so (C) is the best answer yet again.

Let’s apply this principle to the following guided practice question.

A) uncertain
B) emphatic
C) generous
D) wanton
E) ill-intentioned

Let’s put the word “malevolent” into a sentence, keeping in mind that that sentence doesn’t have to be complex.

Take a look at the sentence you just wrote. What does it tell you about the word “malevolent”? For example, is malevolent anything of the following?

  • Behavior
  • Attitude
  • Action
  • Description
  • Belief
  • Quality/characteristic

Based on these observations, which answers can you eliminate? Now what’s the difference between the answers that remain, if any? Can you apply any of your other observations from your initial sentence?

What answer did you end up with?

Here’s how we would approach this problem. 

Example sentence: 

The malevolent queen was very jealous of Snow White’s beauty and attempted to get her to eat a poisoned apple.

We can learn from this that someone who is “malevolent” wants to do bad things to others. This eliminates every answer choice except for E, which is the correct answer.

#2: Apply your knowledge of word parts.

Remember all those word parts and roots your teacher taught last year? Those will definitely prove valuable on SSAT Verbal, particularly with those Synonym questions.

Identifying word parts in answer choices and question words can be vital. It can be a straight-up life-saver on those questions full of vocabulary students may not know.

Be on the hunt for specific prefixes, roots, and suffixes that can give at least partial meaning for a term.

For example, if you see the word "benevolent" in a Synonyms question, you might recognize the prefix ben / bene, which means well or good. This has a positive connotation or charge, which can be useful for elimination purposes.

Let’s apply this principle to the following guided practice question.

A) livid
B) guarded
C) willing
D) magnanimous
E) wry

There are two word parts in “circumspect:” the prefix “circum-” and the root “spect.” 

Circum: roundabout, around, encompass

Spect: see

From these definitions, a general definition for “circumspect” might be “to see around.” What answers can we eliminate that don’t match this? 

If you have any remaining answers, try creating sentences with them to work the rest of your elimination:

Did you get B, guarded? Great job!

For the record, circumspect describes the quality of not being very willing to take risks.

Livid: extremely angry

Wry: using dry, mocking humor

Magnanimous: generous and forgiving

#3: "Plug in" your final choice.

Much like plugging the answer to a math question into the original problem to check your work, "plug in" your final choice on a Synonyms question to the sentence you've created.

This serves as a double-check mechanism and a means of catching careless errors. Using our first example sentence and question, this would look like the following:

The ninja chose to go concealed, moving casually through the crowd without attracting attention.

Yes, "chose to go concealed" sounds a bit awkward, but it still fits in meaning and context.

Let’s apply this principle to the following guided practice question. Try applying the strategies you’ve already learned to get your answer. Then use the lines provided to plug in your final choice.

A) defunct
B) forgotten
C) massive
D) solemn
E) confused

Did you get A, defunct? Great work!

#4: On higher-difficulty questions, the weirder the better.

Remember: the SSAT test-makers will create specific traps on each Verbal question designed to trick the predictable test-taker.

What are predictable test-takers likely to do on harder Synonym questions? They are probably not likely to choose an answer they don't know. They will likely avoid those really weird, foreign-looking terms. However, on really tough Synonym questions, these answers can be correct.

Here's an example of this in action, modeled after a sample practice question:

A) heartfelt
B) fervent
C) irritating
D) praiseworthy
E) interested

The "weirdest" answer choice here, the one many students are not likely to know, is fervent. This happens to be the correct answer choice.

We do want to offer this tip with a caveat, however: students should still adhere to their established guessing strategy, regardless of the difficulty level of the question. It may still be worth your while to leave a question blank if you generally have no clue about the question word and the answer choices.

Let’s apply this principle to the following guided practice question.

A) determined
B) mythical
C) slimy
D) facetious
E) considerate

Looking at the answer choices, which is our “weirdest” answer choice?

Most students will zero in on “facetious,” a word that may or may not already be a part of your working vocabulary. This is, in fact, the right answer!

For the record:

Glib: fluent and voluble but insincere and shallow.

Facetious: treating serious issues with deliberately inappropriate humor; flippant.

Download Our SSAT Synonyms Practice Questions

Now it's your turn to apply these 4 awesome strategies to some SSAT Synonyms practice questions. You can download three free practice drills right now if you'd like.

Here's what you'll get:

  • 3 FREE SSAT Synonyms Practice Drills
  • Answers to all questions

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.

SAT Reading_PrepMaven

5 Things You Should Know About SAT Reading

5 Things You Should Know About SAT Reading

Bonus Material: Top 8 SAT Reading Hacks from the Experts

Evidence-Based Reading is the first section of the SAT. For many students, it can also be the most challenging.

After all, students have a little over an hour to work through five dense reading passages and answer 52 total questions. 

Students’ reading scores are combined with their SAT Writing & Language scores for their total SAT Verbal score, calculated on a scale of 400-800.

Given that many of our students seek support with SAT Reading, we’ve written an entire post devoted to the essential things you should know about this tough section. You’ll also get access to our top 8 SAT Reading Hacks, which you can download below.

Here’s what we cover:

The Format of the SAT’s Evidence-Based Reading Section

On SAT Reading, students have 65 minutes to complete 52 questions. The section contains five passages that span the following genres:

  • Literary narrative
  • Science
  • History / Social Science

Students will always encounter one literary narrative passage, which will always be first in the passage lineup. They will also encounter 2 Science passages and 2 History or Social Science passages (in generally random order).

One of the Science or History / Social Science passages will be a dual passage. This means that students will encounter two shorter passages within one, and must answer questions related to both passages.

It’s important to note that one of these five passages is likely to be an “older” text, meaning that it is a selection from a work published in a prior century. It’s not uncommon, for example, for students to encounter passages excerpted from the following:

  • Classic literature (18th and 19th centuries)
  • Essays or speeches (18th - 20th centuries)
  • Other primary documents

Here’s an example from an officially released SAT practice test (#2):

Students will also encounter a range of question types, which include the following:

  • Command of Evidence
  • Words in Context
  • Main Ideas
  • Purpose / Function
  • Inference
  • Charts & graphs
  • Detail or line reference

In the next section of this post, we discuss what you need to know on SAT Reading beyond these basics.

5 Things You Should Know About SAT Reading

1. It’s 100% strategy-based

The other non-optional sections of the SAT -- Writing & Language and Math -- do require outside content knowledge. SAT Reading, however, does not.

This means that a large part of doing well on this section comes down to a student’s capacity to apply specific strategies, like those in our SAT Reading Hacks, which you can download here.

If you find yourself bringing in outside knowledge to answer a question, stop! This could lead you astray.

2. You don’t have to attempt all 52 questions to earn a high score

In fact, we often discourage students from racing through SAT Reading to ensure they've answered every question! On the SAT, it's important to prioritize accuracy over speed.

This might mean attempting fewer passages, for example, especially for students who struggle with the section's time limit.

Students also don't lose points for an incorrect answer--they simply do not get any points. This means that guessing is to your advantage.

Let's say that Margot decided to answer all 52 questions, while Samantha decided to only attempt 40 questions and guess strategically on the remaining 12. Here's what that might look like:

Margot Samantha
Attempted = 52 / Correct = 32 / Guesses = 0 --> Section Score of 29 Attempted = 40 / Correct = 37 / Guesses = 12 --> Section Score of 31

Samantha attempted fewer questions here but still earned a higher score, as opposed to Margot, who attempted all questions and earned a lower score.

3. Outside reading helps

SAT Reading passages are excerpted from real published works. But students are not likely to have seen most of these excerpts before, especially those that are from older texts.

That's why we encourage SAT students to maintain their reading of certain kinds of texts as they prep. These include:

  • American history documents (speeches, Federalist Papers, etc.)
  • Scientific journal articles
  • Editorials
  • Social science articles

You can find a full reading list with specific titles here.

4. It’s really all about main ideas

While there are many kinds of questions on SAT Reading, they often boil down to the same notion: main ideas. This is because most high school English classrooms focus on students' comprehension of main ideas when reading texts.

If you can train yourself to read for these main ideas--and go a step further in thinking about purpose and structure--then you're already on the right path for succeeding on SAT Reading questions.

In the following purpose question, for example, students can answer this successfully by thinking in terms of main ideas.

We discuss this more in our SAT Reading Hacks.

5. ...and evidence!

It's called Evidence-Based Reading for a reason! Every answer choice should technically be found in the passage itself.

That's right--this is an open-book test!

The Reading section has a certain question type that forces students to select their evidence for questions. These Command of Evidence questions can be tricky, but they are the heart of what this test is all about.

If you can back up every answer with evidence from the passage, you're approaching the test like a strategic test-taker, and poised to succeed on all question types.

Download Our Expert SAT Reading Hacks

As experts in SAT prep, we know what it takes to do well on SAT Reading. We've put together our top SAT Reading Hacks, which you can download for free!

SAT Reading Tips and Hacks

Here's what you'll get:

  • 8 of our very best SAT Reading Hacks
  • Examples from official SAT practice tests

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.

How to Answer the Harvard Supplemental Essay Prompts_PrepMaven

How to Answer the Harvard Supplemental Essay Prompts (2023-2024)

How to write the Harvard supplemental essays (2023-2024)

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s 50+ Real Supplemental Essays for Ivy+ Schools

Last year, Harvard admitted just 3.2% of applicants, meaning that if you want a shot at an admission for the 2023-2024 cycle, your application has to be just about perfect. 

One element of the Harvard application that many students struggle with is the Harvard writing supplement. It’s tricky to know exactly how to approach these supplemental essays: what can you write to stand out from the thousands of other applicants? What exactly are Harvard admissions officers looking for?

Fortunately, at PrepMaven, we’ve helped thousands of students craft compelling college application essays. It doesn’t hurt that many of our expert tutors have been admitted to Harvard themselves, and so they know exactly what works. 

In this guide, we’ll break down the 2023-2024 Harvard writing supplement, explaining exactly what you need to do to maximize your chances at a Harvard acceptance. To check out our overall guide that covers everything you need to do to get into Harvard in 2024, click here.

As you read on, check out our free resource linked below: it contains real, successful examples of supplemental essays written for Harvard and other top schools. 

Jump to section:

Next steps

Harvard’s 2023-2024 supplemental essays 

This year, Harvard has a fairly intense set of supplemental essays: you’ll have to write 5 essays, each with a maximum word count of 200 words.

The supplemental essays prompts are below: 

Prompt 1

Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard? 

Prompt 2

Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. 

Prompt 3

Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are. 

Prompt 4

How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future? 

Prompt 5

Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you.

The first thing to notice is that several of these essays fall into well-known categories of the college essay. 

How to write Harvard’s first essay: Diversity/Community

If you haven’t already, you’ll soon come to recognize this essay prompt. At heart, this kind of prompt is asking you to discuss how–based on specific elements of your life–you view your role as a potential member of Harvard’s diverse community. 

We call this the Diversity/community essay, because those are really always two sides of the same coin. 

With the Harvard Diversity/community essay, there are 2 basic options for structuring your response:

  1. Discuss community through the lens of your identity. 
  2. Discuss community through the lens of other events/activities/pursuits in your life. 

Which path you take will actually be easy to decide: 

If your identity (racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, religious, etc.) has significantly influenced your worldview or experiences, go with option 1. 

In other words, if you know you have something meaningful to say about how your identity has shaped you, that should structure your response. This might mean writing an essay about how discrimination or systemic biases have affected you or your family; it could just as well, however, mean writing about specific experiences you’ve cherished as a member of a particular culture. 

A few great examples from recent essays we’ve worked on: 

  • An essay that focuses on a student’s biracial background and how she learned to use others’ ignorant/racist comments as opportunities for starting difficult conversations. 
  • An essay exploring how a first-generation immigrant served as a translator for his parents. 
  • An essay from a young woman exploring how she navigated the contradictions between her feminist views and the emphasis on tradition within her religion. 

If your identity has not significantly experienced how you view the world, go with option 2. 

If you don’t feel particularly connected to a specific identity, or if you can’t think of specific ways that your identity has affected you, you should instead focus on other elements of your life that have shaped your view of community. 

Think about what you want out of a community: then, think about what aspect of your life (an extracurricular, a hobby, a social circle) has shaped that desire. Tell that story. It may sound a bit tough to thread that needle, but it really isn’t so bad: here are a few really successful topics from recent students in response to this kind of prompt:

  • An essay about how a student’s participation in yearly music recitals with strangers shaped how he views community as a place for everyone to share their gifts/talents. 
  • An essay from an avid hiker about how his experiences maintaining hiking trails taught him to think of community as a shared, daily effort in the service of others. 
  • An essay from a student who moved countries multiple times reflecting on what in each place contributed to creating a cohesive community. 

All the examples are different, but share one thing in common: using your personal experiences to reflect on your role in a diverse community. 

For successful examples of Diversity/community essays, check out the first Princeton essay and the first three UMich essays in the free collection below!

How to write Harvard’s second essay: Intellectual Experience

Here’s the second supplemental prompt:

Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. 

You can really think of this question as being a simpler version of the “Why Major?” question that colleges often ask (and on which we’ve written a guide here). 

With a simple “Intellectual experience” prompt, you don’t have to go into the nitty-gritty of how Harvard’s programs will help you pursue your interests. Instead, you’ll just tell the Harvard admissions committee how a particular experience you’ve had sharpened your curiosity, raised new questions, or affected your academic goals. 

Think of the “Intellectual Experience” essay as having two parts:

  1. Describe the experience itself
  2. Show how it affected you or what you learned

What kinds of things count as intellectual experiences? Well, it really is a very broad category, and you’re likely the best judge. Particularly good ideas include things like:

  • Independent research
  • Internships with professors or universities
  • Advanced summer programs at universities
  • Academically-focused extracurriculars 

If you don’t have any of the above to talk about, you can also make this essay about:

  • A provocative book, article, etc. that you’ve engaged with
  • A particularly memorable moment in class (a specific lab, assignment, or lecture)
  • Any other learning experience, formal or not, that had a profound effect on you

The key is that, regardless of what the topic of your essay is, you do the following:

  1. Describe it in vivid, specific detail
  2. Convey your passion for whatever you’re describing
  3. Explore its effect on you

Never underestimate the power of simply showing Harvard admissions officers that you’re the kind of person who spends time thinking about your interests. That’s really all they want here, and that’s why it’s so important that you’re specific and passionate. 

At the same time, Harvard admissions committees want to see that this intellectual experience has shaped you in some way, that you’ve meaningfully engaged with it. That’s why it’s crucial that you spend some time discussing what new ideas or questions arose out of this experience. 

And that’s it! Do all of the above, and you’ll have the second of Harvard’s supplemental essays locked down tight–plus, you’ll have a great template for any other schools that ask the same question. 

Ready to get started? A great resource to begin with is our collection of real, successful supplemental essays, many of which answer similar prompts. For stellar examples of essays that discuss intellectual experiences, check out the last supplemental essay for Princeton, as well as the first sample essay for UPenn. 

How to write Harvard’s third essay: Extracurricular

Harvard’s third supplemental essay is a classic one: the Extracurricular essay. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see a version of this prompt for a few of your schools. For reference, the exact wording of Harvard’s is below:

Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are. 

These essays usually come quite naturally to students, since the Extracurricular prompt lets you get into more detail about something on your resume/activities sheet. 

Although you may be tempted to simply write about the most “impressive” thing on your resume, we’d encourage you to think a little bit differently: the question here, as with every essay, is about what the best story you can tell is. 

You should especially think about how much more your essay can add on to what the activities list already shows. For example, if your team won first place at a national Quizbowl competition, that’s definitely impressive. But is there a story there? More to the point: is the story you tell going to add something meaningful beyond the fact that you took home the first place trophy?

If not, then Quizbowl can stay on your activities list: the Harvard admissions committee will still know you got first place, and you’ll be able to use this supplemental essay to instead provide added detail and color to an activity that might otherwise seem less impressive. 

We’ve included a sample below from an essay in response to one of Princeton’s previous prompts. 

Over the pandemic, I tutored two middle school boys. Now, I love kids, but middle schoolers are not my number one favorites. They are often dismissive of authority and it's very hard to hold their attention for longer than two minutes. So working with them on Zoom for an hour became my new challenge.

I tried many tactics. When fun warm-ups, writing prompts, and Zoom games all failed, I was officially stumped. I couldn't understand why they found me so uninteresting. I decided to pay closer attention to the passions they mentioned. Instead of imposing my own ideas, I listened to what they had to say.

It turned out Lucian loved running. Getting him to read was like pulling teeth, but I found a Jason Reynolds book called Ghost, part of a series about a track team. We would spend ten or fifteen minutes at the beginning of each session reading it aloud to each other, and while he seemed to be engaged, I couldn't tell exactly how much he was enjoying it. But when we finally finished, he asked me shyly, "What did you say the next one was called?"

Sajiah proved to be tougher to please. He wasn't swayed by any books I suggested to him, no matter the topic. He often hummed or rapped while working, which I found to be endlessly annoying, until I started listening to the actual words. I Googled the lyrics and noticed that he particularly enjoyed Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa. So we began a project investigating the origins of hip hop, and created a website as the final product. He loved finding out more about the music he listened to every day, and I loved seeing him so happy with his work.

I don't pretend I saved the world by helping these boys, but I am proud of the creative way I found projects and topics they genuinely enjoyed investigating. I hope to continue working with children as a form of civic engagement throughout college and beyond; if I can help students like Sajiah and Lucian, it'll be well worth it.

Notice that the extracurricular itself (tutoring two young students) isn’t inherently impressive, but the story is. If the author just left this on their activities sheet, it probably wouldn’t have caught admissions officers’ attention. 

But, because this applicant was able to tell a meaningful, reflective story about this extracurricular activity, it added a new depth and perspective to their application as a whole. 

The third Harvard supplemental essay doesn’t have to be difficult: stay honest, stay direct, and tell your story. 

To read other responses to this very prompt (and many other sample supplemental essays), download our collection below. And if you’d like the guidance of one of our expert tutors (some of whom wrote the very essays in that packet), just contact us

How to write Harvard’s fourth essay: Putting your education to use

Although this question may feel oddly specific, it’s really just another version of a commonly asked question: what are you going to do with what you learn? Most frequently, this is a question asked by religious universities, or universities with a particular focus on service. 

While the answer doesn’t have to present you as somebody who will spend their whole life volunteering, it’s a good idea to reflect a bit on what the purpose of education is for you, and how you might be able to present that in a socially-minded, positive way.

Below, check out the prompt and some advice on what Harvard admissions officers are looking for. 

How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future? 

There are probably some obvious answers you could give here that (even if they’re true) should probably stay off the page. Saying you want to use your Harvard education to make a ton of money on Wall Street or make elite political connections isn’t likely to win you any admiration from the admissions officers. 

That being said, don’t try too hard to pass yourself off as someone you’re not. If you really do have a passion for service or politics and plan to pursue a major related to those ideas, then this essay will be quite straightforward for you. Describe what drives you and how the tools Harvard provides will help you achieve those socially-minded goals. 

For example, if you’re motivated to address systemic inequities in education and plan to study something like sociology, you could simply discuss where this motivation comes from and how a Harvard sociology degree would help you in your goals. The strongest essays will always come from these kinds of stories. 

If, on the other hand, you don’t have those kinds of motivations or background, you’ll likely want to focus this essay more broadly on how you plan to pursue your post-grad life. Ideally, you’ll find some way to thread in ideas about community, giving back, and service into this essay. 

This can be a big-picture, or not. You might talk about how a Harvard education will help you support your family, or how it can help you give back to the local community you come from. As long as you keep your essay specific and honest without trying to overdo your charitable intentions, you’ll be fine. 

How to write Harvard’s fifth essay: Roommates 

Ah, a classic roommate essay! Although this might seem like an offbeat or wacky question, you’ll find there’s a few colleges that ask you to share something with your future roommates. Why?

Well, basically because they want to make sure you’re a fairly sociable person who’ll get along with people. 

Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you.

You can and should have fun with these essays, and can even frame them as letters to your roommate. It’s an opportunity for you to share fun facts or quirks about yourself, sure, but more than anything these essays are a chance for you to show that you’re mindful of others. 

Whatever specific facts you include here, be sure to make some of them about you as a community member. For example, if you’re an engineering whiz, you can definitely talk about how you like to tinker and take stuff apart. But, to really make this land with Harvard’s admissions committee, you could also mention how that means you’ll always be ready to help your roommate fix a broken laptop. 

The key idea is to show that your quirks, whatever they are, will have some positive impact on the people around you. 

Be humble, be playful, but don’t forget what this is all about: you’re trying to convince Harvard you’d be a good person to have around for four years. First and foremost that means showing them that you’d be a conscientious roommate who’s mindful of others’ needs. 

Next Steps

If you’re applying to Harvard, the place to start is our comprehensive guide to the Harvard application for the 2023-2024 cycle, which you can find here. That guide doesn’t just cover what Harvard’s application requires of you: it uses the latest statistics and insights from our own Harvard undergraduate tutors to walk you through exactly what you’ll need to do to have a shot at Harvard.

Once you’re ready to start writing supplemental essays for Harvard and your other schools, we have two main pieces of advice. 

First: read real, successful sample supplemental essays that helped get students into Harvard and other hyper-selective schools. Most people don’t really know what schools like Harvard actually want from the supplemental essays, and the best solution is to spend lots of time reviewing sample essays. We’ve collected dozens of these essays in the free resource below. 

Second: get expert help. Whether you’re a brilliant writer or just an okay one, you’ll benefit tremendously from the advice of someone who’s already successfully navigated the college application process. Our college essay coaches aren’t just writing experts who can make your essay shine: they’re trained to know exactly what schools like Harvard expect to see

Check out the free sample essays below, and, when you’re ready to start writing, contact us to get paired with a college essay expert. 

What You Need to Know About Supplemental Essays_PrepMaven

8 Tips for Writing Supplemental Essays

8 Tips for Writing Supplemental Essays

Bonus Material: Download the Supplemental Essay Prompts for the 50 Most Selective Colleges

Many U.S. colleges and universities require applicants to respond to supplemental essays. These are in addition to the personal statement or college essay.

Some colleges, even top-tier ones like Northeastern, for example, don’t require supplemental responses. 

Some do but only require one or two short responses. Others, like Princeton University, have 6 supplemental essay prompts!

Regardless, it is possible to take a strategic approach to your supplemental essays, just like the college essay. In this post, we’ve got the 8 tips you need to tackle these additional writing responses with success.

We also give you access to our supplemental essay spreadsheet, which includes supplemental prompts and application deadlines for the 50 most selective colleges in the U.S. Grab it below.

Here’s what we cover:

8 Tips for Writing Supplemental Essays

1) Start planning early

Many students devote the majority of their summer and senior fall to writing their personal statement. Your personal statement is, after all, one of the most important parts of your application. You should put in the time and effort to write a successful college essay.

But many students will forget about supplemental essays, saving them for the end of their application process, sometimes a week before the deadline! 

They often don’t realize just how much work these additional essays require. And if you’ve got 8 colleges on your list with supplemental essays, that’s a lot of writing.

That’s why we recommend that students identify the supplemental essays associated with every college on their list as they are building that list. Students should also note the quantity of these essays per college and their word counts.

When we work with our college essay students, we also help applicants build a timeline for drafting these essays, depending on early or regular decision applications. In some cases, students will start work on their supplemental essays as they are finishing their college essay.

You can find out more about a college’s supplemental essay requirements by adding that college to your list on Coalition or the Common App and viewing “Writing Supplement.” Here’s what that looks like for Princeton University, for example, via the Common App:

We also encourage students to check out our supplemental essay spreadsheet for the 50 most selective U.S. colleges, which you can download below.

2) Identify what the prompt is specifically asking

Many supplemental essay prompts are very specific, as in this one from Virginia Tech’s application:

Virginia Tech's motto is "Ut Prosim" which means 'That I May Serve'. We are interested in learning more about your interests and how you have been involved and/or served. Briefly describe a group, organization, or community that you have been involved with. Is this a special area of interest for you, and why? How long have you been involved? What role did you play? What contributions have you made to this group? Were you able to influence others and/or influence decisions for the good of the group?

Others can be very broad, like this one, from Wake Forest University:

Tell us more about the topic that most engages your intellectual curiosity. 

Regardless, identify what the prompt is specifically asking. Because supplemental essays are typically shorter than your personal statement, it’s essential to craft a response that is not off-topic. 

Think about what college admissions officers are likely looking for with certain prompts. 

Do they want to learn about your relationship to service, for example? Your innate passion? Your promise as a scholar? Your authentic voice? Why this college is a good fit for you? etc.

3) Be concise

You likely won’t have a lot of room for many of your supplemental essays. Three of Princeton’s essays, for example, have 50-word limits.

This means that it’s imperative for applicants to be concise in their responses. Every word should be essential. Cut the fluff and don’t be afraid to plunge right in (just as we advise our students do with their college essays).

4) Choose topics you haven’t already discussed in your application

This might go without saying, but it is still an important point. 

Think of your application as a whole, including your personal statement, and consider the dimensions of yourself that you haven’t yet discussed. What else do you wish to highlight, especially when dealing with very broad supplemental essay prompts?

Consider all of the following:

  • Personal challenges
  • Values and beliefs
  • A specific volunteering or work experience
  • A meaningful activity or hobby
  • Your passions and interests
  • What makes you curious
  • Your unique personality

This is why colleges have supplemental essays in the first place. They want to know even more about you as a candidate, beyond your personal statement, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and test scores. Be sure to select material that is not fully evident or elaborated in these other parts of your application.

5) Think about that college’s mission statement

This can be particularly vital for supplemental essays that ask why students are interested in applying to that specific school, or how they envision that school helping them with their goals.

College mission statements are usually quite broad. But they do encapsulate that college’s priorities and core values, which can be important to reference in a “Why X College” essay response.

Take Cornell University’s core values:

“Purposeful discovery, free and open inquiry and expression, a community of belonging, exploration across boundaries, changing lives through engagement and respect for the natural environment constitute Cornell’s core values.”

These are very different from Tulane University’s mission statement, which expresses the following: 

“Tulane’s purpose is to create, communicate, and conserve knowledge in order to enrich the capacity of individuals, organizations, and communities to think, to learn, and to act and lead with integrity and wisdom.”

Both provide insight into the values admissions officers are likely seeking in applicants, which can be valuable for crafting supplemental essay responses.

6) Write them even if they’re optional

We mean it! Even if it adds more to your to-do list, we encourage all students seeking a competitive edge to write those optional essay responses. 

Why? It’s your chance to give more meaning to your application and demonstrate that you are invested in applying to a specific school. We're not saying that if you skip the optional essays you won't earn admission.

But you will be providing more information for admissions officers to evaluate, which is to your advantage.

7) Recycle where you can

In many cases, it is possible to “recycle” certain supplemental essay responses. Many colleges, for example, require students to briefly elaborate on a meaningful extracurricular activity or work experience in 150-200 words.

Others may allow you to use parts of essay responses you’ve already crafted, with a little bit of tweaking.

We don’t recommend that students copy and paste any of their “Why X College” essays, as these should be tailored to each specific school. But they can certainly reuse certain sentences, templates, and essay structures across their responses.

Regardless of how you choose to recycle, do make sure that every response is authentic and relevant to that particular school and essay prompt.

8) Be specific!

Even if you’re working with a tight word limit, be as specific as possible in your supplemental essay responses, especially for very specific prompts, like the following:

  • Why are you applying to our college?
  • How will our university’s curriculum support your professional and personal goals?
  • Discuss a time where your beliefs were challenged. How did you respond? What did you learn from this experience?

What does it mean to be specific? Incorporate relevant details whenever possible.

In “Why X College” essays, for example, think about mentioning the following:

  • Specific majors and requirements
  • Actual professors and courses
  • Names of programs
  • Research opportunities
  • Study abroad programs
  • Etc.

For more reflective supplemental essays, rely on clear and declarative “I” statements, like the following:

  • I firmly believe that ________.
  • I learned through this experience that _________.
  • I try to guide every action with the following principle: _________.

Download the Supplemental Essay Prompts for the 50 Most Selective Colleges

We've compiled the supplemental essay prompts for the most selective 50 U.S. colleges and universities in one FREE easy-to-access spreadsheet!

Here's what you'll get:

  • The supplemental essay prompt(s) for the most selective 50 U.S. colleges / universities
  • Word limits for each prompt
  • Application deadlines for each (early and regular)

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.

How to Answer the Boston College Supplemental Essay

How to Answer the Boston College Supplemental Essay

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's Supplemental Essay Spreadsheet

Many top-tier universities and colleges in the U.S. now require applicants to submit at least one additional essay. 

Boston College is one of these colleges--it requires students to submit one 400-word essay in addition to their personal statement.

What are the prompts for this essay? And how should you respond?

We’ve got the answers to these questions in this post. We also give readers access to a great resource: the top 50 most selective colleges in the U.S. and their supplemental essays for 2020-2021, in one easy-to-read spreadsheet.

Grab it below.

Here’s what we cover:

Boston College’s Supplemental Essay for 2020-2021

Students applying to Boston College only have to write one 400-word supplemental essay. However, they do have to choose between four prompts.

We would like to get a better sense of you. Please respond to one of the following prompts. (400 word limit)

1. Great art evokes a sense of wonder. It nourishes the mind and spirit. Is there a particular song, poem, speech, or novel from which you have drawn insight or inspiration?

2. When you choose a college, you will join a new community of people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and stories. What is it about your background, your experiences, or your story, that will enrich Boston College’s community?

3. Boston College strives to provide an undergraduate learning experience emphasizing the liberal arts, quality teaching, personal formation, and engagement of critical issues. If you had the opportunity to create your own college course, what enduring question or contemporary problem would you address and why?

4. Jesuit education considers the liberal arts a pathway to intellectual growth and character formation. What beliefs and values inform your decisions and actions today, and how will Boston College assist you in becoming a person who thinks and acts for the common good?

In the next section, we provide pointers for responding to each of these four prompts.

How to Respond to Each Boston College Supplemental Essay Prompt

Boston College Supplemental Essay Prompt #1

  • Great art evokes a sense of wonder. It nourishes the mind and spirit. Is there a particular song, poem, speech, or novel from which you have drawn insight or inspiration? (400 words)

We encourage students to select one specific work of art to discuss in this essay response. Think broadly here. Consider what comes to mind when you think of the following, for example:

  • Your most-played Spotify playlists or songs
  • The books on your bookshelf
  • Syllabi from past English classes
  • Speeches you’ve heard or studied 
  • Spoken word poetry

You might want to build a list of works at first and narrow down from there. If you have trouble narrowing your list down, jump ahead to the next set of questions. Ideally, the work of art you choose should give you a lot of room to discuss its impact on you.

Once you’ve identified the song, poem, speech, or novel you’d like to discuss, ask yourself the following questions.

  • What are this piece of art’s main themes? 
  • What does this work of art have to do with the following? Identify all that apply:
    • Social issues
    • Values
    • Identity
    • Philosophy
    • Economics
    • Relationships, etc.
  • What were the circumstances under which you encountered this work of art?
  • What were your initial impressions? 
  • What are your current impressions? (Do they differ from your initial impressions?)
  • What specific insights has this work of art generated?
  • Does it inspire you? In what way?
  • What does this work of art have to do with your beliefs, values, and/or perspectives of the world?

When crafting your response, students should identify the work of art from the outset and offer a brief description. Don’t be shy about plunging in, as you only have 400 words for your response. Here’s an example of what that might look like:

I first encountered Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” in my sophomore year English class, during a time when literature had not yet taken the priority it has today in my life.  

It’s also vital to spend less time describing this work of art and more time describing how it has inspired or influenced you in the essay as a whole. The admissions readers will be more interested in the part of this response that concerns you after all!

Your essay should, for example, be rich with the following kind of statements.

“The Great Gatsby”’s interrogation of the American Dream has challenged me to redefine what “success” actually means to me; in fact, it has motivated me to more precisely articulate my academic and personal goals in terms of their relationship to my core values.

Feel free to connect the insights you’ve drawn to other aspects of your life, too, such as extracurricular activities, service projects, and independent research, but these should serve only as examples of actions this work of art has inspired.

A nice way to conclude your essay might be referencing this piece of art's current role in your life, as in the following example:

I know I will always keep a copy of "The Great Gatsby" on my bookshelf as a reminder of the importance of human relationships, honesty, and integrity.

Boston College Supplemental Essay Prompt #2

  • When you choose a college, you will join a new community of people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and stories. What is it about your background, your experiences, or your story, that will enrich Boston College’s community? (400 words)

This prompt is very broad, which can be both beneficial and challenging for students. With this prompt, however, admissions officers are interested in diversity. They are also interested in diversity that will “enrich” the campus community, which means that this prompt is also interested in what you have to offer or contribute.

What do we mean by "diversity"? Diversity can refer to any of the following:

  • Ethnicity
  • Identity
  • Cultural background
  • Heritage
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Socioeconomic circumstances
  • Family
  • Language
  • Education
  • Beliefs
  • Religious traditions
  • Values
  • Perspectives
  • Character
  • etc.

We encourage students to learn more about the Boston College community and its values before responding to this prompt. You can do so by attending virtual information sessions, for example, or spending some time on the BC website.

Identifying school mission statements can also be helpful for picking a place to start here. Boston College’s mission encompasses service, the search for truth, academic excellence, and research.

You might want to use some of these keywords to think about the part of your specific story that might “enrich” the BC community. Here are some sample questions to ask:

  • What experiences have I had in searching for truth?
  • What have my encounters with service looked like?
  • What is distinct or unique about my background?

As with all of these prompts, it’s more important to choose an experience or aspect of your background that will give you a lot to say about what you have to bring to this campus community. 

What’s more, because of the broadness of this prompt, you can feel free to refer to a broader component of “your story,” as opposed to one specific experience, including heritage, identity, traditions, language, and beliefs.

When responding to this prompt, make sure to give ample room to the following:

  • The part of your story that you want to highlight (and what this says about your own specific diversity)
  • How this will enrich the Boston College community

It’s often easier for students to tackle the first bullet point here, and harder to address the second. That’s okay, as the first bullet point, according to the language of the prompt, is the most important.

But you don’t want to leave admissions officers guessing about that enrichment factor here. You’ll want at least a few sentences that speak to your own understanding of how you’ll enrich this community, as in this example:

Through these experiences, I have learned the social resonance of being bilingual, and how language really is the key to creating stronger communities. I am eager to bring this attention to the words that connect us to Boston College, which places a premium on diversity and community.

Notice how this example specifically identifies what this applicant intends to offer BC. This is important! These lines also serve as a great conclusion.

Boston College Supplemental Essay Prompt #3

  • Boston College strives to provide an undergraduate learning experience emphasizing the liberal arts, quality teaching, personal formation, and engagement of critical issues. If you had the opportunity to create your own college course, what enduring question or contemporary problem would you address and why? (400 words)

This is a long, fancy way of asking students the following question: what do you think the most pressing issue in the world is, and why?

It’s also important to notice the buzzwords Boston College incorporates into this prompt: “liberal arts,” “quality,” “personal formation,” and “critical issues.” As you reflect on the pressing issue or question you’d like to discuss, keep these terms in mind. Ideally, the issue you choose should come from a place of deep honesty and also have to do with something that is critical and meaningful on multiple levels.

It seems like a tall order, but ask yourself the following questions as you brainstorm:

  • What issue keeps you up at night?
  • What question hasn’t yet been answered that you desperately want to answer?
  • If you could solve one problem in the world with a snap of your fingers, what would it be?
  • What stands in the way of the common good currently?

The prompt is broad enough that you can literally choose any question or problem you wish (“enduring” or “contemporary”), on any scale, to address.

Once you’ve selected your question or problem, think about the following:

  • Why does this matter?
  • On what scale(s) does this matter?
  • How did you first encounter this question or problem? How do you currently engage with it?
  • Why is it important for students to learn about this?
  • What impact would examining this problem or issue have? On what levels?
  • What does this say about you?

When writing your response, spend less time discussing the question or issue and more time describing its meaning. Your perceived meaning of this issue is, after all, what admissions officers are most interested in, as it says a lot about who you are as an individual in this world and your capacity for self-awareness.

Be sure to specifically identify this problem or question from the outset, for clarity’s sake. Here’s an example:

In my college course, I would address the following question: What does it actually mean to be a feminist in 2021?

If you’ve chosen something rather broad, be sure to describe what you would specifically focus on within that broader category, as in this example:

In my college course, I would address the following question: What does it actually mean to be a feminist in 2021? Specifically, I would encourage my students to consider how the definition of feminism has evolved since its inception and approach modern feminism through the lenses of race and media.

As you discuss the meaning of this question or issue, be sure you’re very clear about the following two things:

  • why you are personally invested in this issue / question
  • why it matters on a larger scale

You can address the first bullet point by incorporating personal anecdote, if you’d like. This is a great way to introduce the second bullet point, too! Here's an example:

I was raised in a household that claimed it was staunchly feminist. I read books with female protagonists and was told that to be a girl was to have a special superpower. Yet over the years, I’ve come to scrutinize this term in a new fashion.

Boston College Supplemental Essay Prompt #4

  • Jesuit education considers the liberal arts a pathway to intellectual growth and character formation. What beliefs and values inform your decisions and actions today, and how will Boston College assist you in becoming a person who thinks and acts for the common good? (400 words)

This prompt contains many excellent keywords that indicate what college admissions officers are interested in here. Keep these in mind as you are drafting your response:

  • Character
  • Growth 
  • Beliefs and values 
  • Common good

It is also a two-question prompt. Students should make sure that they respond adequately to both of these questions in their 400-word essay:

  • What beliefs and values inform your decisions and actions today?
  • Wow will Boston College assist you in becoming a person who thinks and acts for the common good?

Use the structure of these questions to your advantage! You can spend the first part of your essay discussing those beliefs and values and the second portion addressing how BC will assist you in thinking and acting for the “common good.” 

To begin, we recommend brainstorming your core values and beliefs. You might already have done some of this work prior to crafting your personal statement. We’ve provided some examples of values and beliefs below.

Sample Values Sample Beliefs
“It’s always important to lead with the heart”
“Place others’ needs before your own”
“Unity over division”
“Everyone has a fundamental right to expression”

It can also be helpful to anchor these values and beliefs in specific experiences and/or anecdotes. This will make it easier to tell a story and to focus on your core values and beliefs (as opposed to all of them!).

For example, your value for honesty might be deeply related to your desire to pursue a career in law. Or perhaps your belief in “unity over division” is related to your commitment to social justice.

If you’re having trouble coming up with values and beliefs, think about the second part of the question: “inform your decisions and actions.” What guides the decisions that you make in your life? What inspires action?

Here is an excerpt from a sample response demonstrating an applicant’s beliefs and values:

I have always believed in the power of compassion, yet only fully understood the potential of this value when I started volunteering at a local shelter for women in recovery...Through this experience, I have learned that compassion is what unites us all despite our differences, and this is what guides every decision-making process.

Students often struggle with the second portion of this prompt. While this is not specifically a “why Boston College” prompt, students should be specific about how they foresee BC will help them with their character formation, specifically the formation of values that have to do with the “common good.”

The key word here is “how.” 

Once again, it can be helpful to learn more about Boston College’s mission and teaching philosophy. According to its website, for example, BC’s mission encompasses service, the search for truth, academic excellence, and research. Many of its courses encourage the act of self reflection and “asking of big questions.”

Think about how this mission and philosophy relates to the beliefs and values you’ve pinpointed. 

Then think about the other components of BC that will help you become an even better person. In other words, what about BC is going to help you grow as a person with a set of values (and not just a scholar)?

Consider the following:

  • Your prospective major and that department at BC
  • Extracurricular activities, especially service
  • Opportunities at BC that reflect your values and beliefs

Here is an excerpt from a sample response:

Boston College’s commitment to service aligns with my profound desire to apply my innate compassion to all kinds of communities: a vibrant student body, a strong biology department, and the broader volunteering community.

Download Our Supplemental Essay Spreadsheet

Applying to several top-tier colleges? We've compiled the supplemental essay prompts for the 50 most selective U.S. colleges and universities in one FREE easy-to-access spreadsheet!

Here's what you'll get:

  • The supplemental essay prompt(s) the 50 most selective U.S. colleges / universities
  • Word limits for each prompt
  • Application deadlines for each (early and regular)

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.

Your Guide to Using the Common App Additional Information Section_PrepMaven

Your Guide to Using the Common App Additional Information Section

Your Guide to Using the Common App Additional Information Section

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s Supplemental Essay Spreadsheet

The Common App has an Additional Information section, which is entirely optional.

Many of our students ask us about this section, especially in light of the new (optional) COVID-19 essay question for 2020-2021 admissions.

Should students say something in the Common App additional information section? 

And if so, what should they say? What shouldn’t they say?

In this post, we walk students how to approach this section. We also provide examples of things to say if you choose to include something.

Readers also get access to our Supplemental Essay Spreadsheet, which includes essay prompts and relevant information for the top 50 selective colleges in the U.S. Grab it now.

Here’s what we cover:

What is the Common App Additional Information Section?

The Common App Additional Information section appears under “Writing” listed in the left-hand screen menu. 

Students will find two questions under the “Additional Information” header, which comes after their Personal Essay and Disciplinary History section: 

These two questions are entirely optional, although students need to select “yes” or “no” for both. 

Students have up to 650 words to respond to this additional information question if they so choose.

We want to emphasize that students don’t have to put anything in this Additional Information box! It is not a requirement, and a lack of response here is not likely to sway an admissions decision one way or the other.

However, it could be used to applicants’ advantage under select circumstances, and we are all about helping students create competitive college applications.

In the next section, we discuss the 3 things students can consider saying in the Common App Additional Information section.

What You Should Include in the Common App Additional Information Section

1. Details that might be missing from the rest of your application

We realize that this is a broad statement, but it’s in line with what the question is asking here. The prompt mentions “details of circumstances or qualifications not reflected in the application.”

Students should only use this section if what they include provides new details that aren’t already apparent elsewhere. 

This means information that falls outside of the following:

  • Your activities list and/or resume
  • Personal essay
  • COVID-19 essay response
  • Supplemental essay responses
  • Transcript
  • Test scores
  • Any other supporting documents (i.e., graded academic papers or creative portfolios)

This might seem challenging.

But it’s always worth asking: is there anything that you feel is missing outside of your application as a whole? What haven’t you yet said about who you are as a scholar, leader, and individual? Is there anything in your application that didn’t get the space it’s due?

Sometimes answers to these questions come down to personal and/or exceptional circumstances

Some details that might fit the bill here (if you haven’t already discussed them) include:

  • Health issues or medical conditions
  • Learning differences or disabilities
  • Physical disabilities or differences
  • Access to education, especially if limited for specific reasons
  • Unemployment in your family (especially if not COVID-19 related)

Note: If you’ve participated in paid work in your high school years and/or acted as a caregiver in your home, you should actually reference these in your Activities list.

Here is an excerpt from a sample response that would fit these qualifications:

I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was a child. While I have been able to monitor my symptoms for the most part with medication and various treatments, my health condition has sometimes limited my capacity to pursue athletics, extracurricular activities, and a more rigorous academic schedule.

2. Clarifications or necessary elaborations

Thinking of the “qualifications” part of the Common App Additional Information question, you might want to make some clarifications here about your personal qualifications.

For example, maybe you conducted some fantastic independent research for an honors course at your school or a private study, but you haven’t had space in this application to discuss the nuances of this research for whatever reason (outside of supplemental essay prompts).

The Additional Information section is a great space to provide this brief elaboration.

Perhaps you volunteered for a local non-profit organization in a way that felt particularly meaningful, but you couldn’t quite squeeze in the relevant details in your Activities list or other supplemental essay. Time to put those details here, especially if they offer a clearer picture of this experience (and what you learned from it).

The same goes for any noticeable gaps in your transcript or Activities list not likely to be addressed by your guidance counselor. (Your guidance counselor should be the one to address dips in grades and general COVID-19 impact on your school system.)

For example, maybe personal finances prevented you from enrolling in a college preparation course your junior year. Or perhaps access to transportation played a big role in influencing your minimal participation in a specific activity.

These are important details admissions officers are likely to value as they read your application.

Here is an excerpt from a sample response that would work here:

My opportunity to pursue an independent study project with Professor Reid allowed me to expand upon research completed in my AP Psychology course. Under Professor Reid's guidance, I examined the neurological implications of addiction.

3. Information likely to help admissions officers in their decision-making process

This might sound like a general point, which is why we encourage readers to check out our post on what college admissions officers look for when they read your application.

But it is important to think of the word “help” here. Admissions officers have a big job in front of them, and they receive thousands of highly competitive applications every year. The more you valuable information you can give them to aid in their decision-making process, the better!

What you include in this section should add value to your application as a whole. It should demonstrate more of your potential to be a great student at this school, given what it clarifies, elaborates, or explains.

In short,  It should distinguish you from other applicants.

What Not to Say in the Common App Additional Information Section

Yes, it is possible to misuse the Common App Additional Information section! We’ve seen it happen before. 

This is, in general, not a place for any of the following:

  • Repeated or redundant information
  • Another 650-word essay
  • Excuses or complaints

Remember to consider everything that admissions officers will be looking at, including those parts that you won’t necessarily see, like letters of recommendation and guidance counselor statements.

Your response here should not repeat what these parts already detail, in any way.

This is also not an opportunity to include a 650-word essay! Many colleges ask for supplemental essays as a way to encourage additional creative writing and reflection; that is not the goal of this question here.

Lastly, this is not a place to complain about anything or provide excuses for gaps in your transcript or academic history. If you do need to address such gaps, do so in a way that is honest and emphasizes your attempts to overcome this gap.

Download Our Supplemental Essay Spreadsheet

The Common App Additional Information question is just one of extra questions students will likely have to answer when submitting their applications.

That's why we put together our Supplemental Essay Spreadsheet, which includes the supplemental essay prompts for the 50 most selective U.S. colleges and universities.

With this spreadsheet, you'll get:

  • The supplemental essay prompt(s) for the most selective 50 U.S. colleges / universities
  • Word limits for each prompt
  • Application deadlines for each (early and regular)

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.

How to Answer the Why This College Essay Prompt

The "Why This College" Supplemental Essay Prompt: 7 Tips for Responding

The "Why This College" Supplemental Essay Prompt: 7 Tips for Responding

Bonus Material: Download the Supplemental Essay Prompts for the 50 Most Selective Colleges

Many U.S. colleges and universities now require students to answer supplemental essay prompts.

These are in addition to the college essay or personal statement.

A common supplemental essay prompt asks students to reflect on why they’ve chosen to apply to a specific school.

This can be one of the most challenging prompts to respond to! Many of our students turn to us for advice in crafting a compelling and competitive “Why This College” essay.

We’ve compiled that advice in this post.

Readers also get access to our Supplemental Essay Spreadsheet, which includes essay prompts and relevant information for the top 50 selective colleges in the U.S. Grab it now.

Here’s what you’ll find:

  1. The “Why This College” Supplemental Essay Prompt
  2. 7 Tips for Responding to this Prompt
  3. Bonus: PrepMaven's Supplemental Essay Spreadsheet

1) The “Why This College” Supplemental Essay Prompt

Every college is likely to ask this question differently, but here are some examples of what this prompt might look like:

  • Why UVM?
  • How will the University of Michigan’s curriculum support you in pursuing your interests?
  • Tell us why you decided to apply to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Word limits are likely to vary with this question. For example, some only give students 50-150 words to respond to the “Why This College” prompt. Others might allow students up to 650 words to respond.

Why do colleges ask this question?

In general, this essay prompt is designed to:

  • Give admissions officers more insight into what specifically has attracted you to this school
  • Help them figure out if you’re a good fit for their student body
  • Provide details about how you might contribute to that college’s communities (academic or otherwise)

You can use the following 7 tips to write a response that ticks all of these boxes (and more).

2) 7 Tips for Responding to the “Why This College” Essay Prompt

1. Start by building a must-have list

If you don’t already have a college must-have list, now is the time to build one.

What is a must-have list? It’s a list of everything you’re looking for in a college. Here’s an example must-have list:

  • Study abroad opportunities
  • Mid-sized student body
  • Proximity to a city
  • Excellent career resources
  • Strong psychology department
  • Undergraduate research opportunities
  • Interdisciplinary curriculum
  • On-campus housing
  • Diverse, spirited student body
  • Emphasis on community service

Most students have an idea of what they’re looking for in a college, but might not have these ideas outlined in a coherent list. Building this list, however, will be helpful for creating an outline for your “Why This College” essay response.

Try to be as specific as possible in crafting this list. It doesn’t matter how long it is, either!

2. Compare this list to what a college offers

Now hold up your must-have list to what this college specifically offers. 

If “study abroad opportunities” are at the top of your list, for example, what specific study abroad opportunities does this school offer? If you are eager to participate in undergraduate research, what will that look like on this specific campus?

It can be helpful to build a table for this part. We’ve constructed a sample table based on part of the must-have list above for Tulane University:

My Must-Have What Tulane Offers
Study abroad opportunities Extensive for psychology majors: from New Zealand to Israel
Mid-sized student body, proximity to a city 6,968 undergraduates, urban setting (New Orleans)
Strong psychology department B.S. in Psychology; interdisciplinary majors available; Psi Chi and Psychology Club; renowned faculty; research-based
Undergraduate research opportunities Undergraduate research assistantships in Psychology department (strongly encouraged); Honors Thesis
Emphasis on community service Undergraduates must do public service in order to graduate

3. Be specific

It is vital to cater specifically to the college when crafting your response. This means doing your research so you can mention specific study abroad programs, faculty members, classes, etc.

Compare the two sentences below to see the difference between a general response and a specific one. Notice how the specific sentence also offers information about the student’s own relationship to community service.

Too General Specific
I love Tulane’s community service opportunities. Given my passion for serving my community, I am excited that Tulane requires undergraduates to complete public service in order to graduate and look forward to participating in CACTUS.  

Where do you find these specifics? 

You should be able to find all details on that college’s website. If you want more information about something, feel free to email a specific department or staff member.

4. Identify why you want to study a certain subject

Some colleges also require you to describe why you’re interested in a certain major. For this reason, it can be helpful to think about why you want to study a specific subject as you go about your research.

This is also a great chance to provide some backstory or narrative. You might wish to describe how that fourth grade Science Fair, for example, solidified your passion for Physics. Or perhaps your proximity to your local library inspired an interest in community engagement.

Of course, you don’t want to spend too much time providing this backstory. But it can give colleges more insight into you as a scholar and individual, which is always valuable!

5. Use active language 

Some students aren’t sure what language they should use when responding to this prompt. Understandably--it can feel weird to outline everything you love about a school in a professional essay! 

We tell all of our students to use active language when writing this essay. Here are some examples of what we mean:

  • I appreciate X College’s emphasis on…
  • I look forward to participating in…
  • I am intrigued by…
  • X College’s urban setting is ideal given my…
  • The X Department’s curriculum will best prepare me for…
  • X College’s values align with my own...  

6. Lead with your must-haves

A great way to begin the paragraphs in your essay is to lead with your must-haves.

Here’s an example thesis statement that shows this in action:

Given my preference for hands-on learning, a strong Neuroscience Department, and research-based education, I am confident that X College will best prepare me for a career in medicine. 

Notice how this statement leads with what the student is looking for in a college--hands-on learning, a strong Neuroscience Department, and research-based education--and concludes with a gesture to that specific school.

7. Avoid telling the school what it already knows

It’s easy to write what we call “educational statements” that give the school information it likely already knows. 

Here’s an example of one of these statements, which doesn't tell us anything about the student:

Community service is built into Tulane’s curriculum.

How do you avoid these statements? Make sure they are part of a statement of opinion or interest, as in the following:

I appreciate the fact that community service is built into Tulane’s curriculum and look forward to deepening my relationship to volunteering throughout my academic studies there.

Download the Supplemental Essay Prompts for the 50 Most Selective Colleges

We recommend downloading our Supplemental Essay Spreadsheet, which includes the supplemental essay prompts for the 50 most selective U.S. colleges and universities.

With this spreadsheet, you'll get:

  • The supplemental essay prompt(s) for the most selective 50 U.S. colleges / universities
  • Word limits for each prompt
  • Application deadlines for each (early and regular)

These are only a few of the tips we offer students navigating essay response in their college application journey.

We also encourage students to check out the following posts:

Good luck!

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University. Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.