Sample Weak Supplemental Essay for Duke University

Avoid Common Mistakes When Explaining Why a School Interests You

Duke University Chapel at sunrise
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What should you avoid when writing a supplemental essay for college admission? The sample presented here illustrates many of the common mistakes made by applicants.

Supplemental Essays Need to Be Specific

Many supplemental essays ask, "Why our school?" If your response could work for more than one school, it isn't specific enough. Make sure you aren't explaining why you want to go to college, but what specific features of the school make it more attractive to you than other schools.

Duke University's Trinity College offers applicants the opportunity to write a supplemental essay that answers the question: "Please discuss why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something in particular at Duke that attracts you? Please limit your response to one or two paragraphs."

The question is typical of many supplemental essays. Essentially, the admissions folks want to know why their school is of particular interest to you. Such questions often generate remarkably bland essays that make common supplemental essay mistakes. The example below is one example of what not to do. Read the short essay, and then a critique highlighting some of the mistakes made by the author.

Example of ​a Weak Supplemental Essay

I believe the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences at Duke is an excellent match for me. I believe college should not be merely a gateway to the work force; it should educate the student in a variety of subjects and prepare him or her for the range of challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in life. I have always been a curious person and enjoy reading all kinds of literature and nonfiction. In high school I excelled in history, English, AP psychology, and other liberal arts subjects. I have not yet decided on a major, but when I do, it will almost certainly be in the liberal arts, such as history or political science. I know that Trinity College is very strong in these areas. But regardless of my major, I want to receive a broad education that spans a variety of areas in the liberal arts, so that I will graduate as not only a viable job prospect, but also as a well-rounded and learned adult who can make diverse and valuable contributions to my community. I believe Duke’s Trinity College will help me grow and become that kind of person.

Critique of the Duke Supplemental Essay

The sample supplemental essay for Duke is typical of what an admissions office frequently encounters. At first glance, the essay may seem just fine. The grammar and mechanics are solid, and the writer clearly wants to expand his or her education and become a well-rounded person.

But think about what the prompt is actually asking: "discuss why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something in particular at Duke that attracts you?"

The assignment here is not to describe why you want to go to college. The admissions office is asking you to explain why you want to go to Duke. A good response, then, must discuss specific aspects of Duke that appeal to the applicant. Unlike a strong supplemental essay, the sample essay above fails to do so.

Think about what the student says about Duke: the school will "educate the student in a variety of subjects" and present a "range of challenges and opportunities." The applicant wants a "broad education that spans a variety of areas." The student wants to be "well-rounded" and to "grow."

These are all worthwhile goals, but they don't say anything that is unique to Duke. Any comprehensive university offers a variety of subjects and helps students to grow. Also, by talking about "the student" and using phrases such as "him or her," the author makes clear that the essay is presenting generalities rather than creating a clear and specific relationship between Duke and the applicant.

A successful supplemental essay must clearly articulate what specific features of the school make it the right match for your personality, passions, and professional goals. The admissions folks need to see a clear and sensible reason for your desire to transfer.

Is Your Supplemental Essay Specific Enough?

As you write your supplemental essay, take the "global replace test." If you can take your essay and substitute the name of one school for another, then you have failed to address the essay prompt adequately. Here, for example, we could replace "Duke's Trinity College" with "the University of Maryland" or "Stanford" or "Ohio State." Nothing in the essay is actually about Duke.

In short, the essay is filled with vague, generic language. The author demonstrates no specific knowledge of Duke and no clear desire actually to attend Duke. The student who wrote this supplemental essay probably hurt his or her application more than helped it.

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Your Citation
Grove, Allen. "Sample Weak Supplemental Essay for Duke University." ThoughtCo, Oct. 29, 2020, Grove, Allen. (2020, October 29). Sample Weak Supplemental Essay for Duke University. Retrieved from Grove, Allen. "Sample Weak Supplemental Essay for Duke University." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 31, 2023).