How tailored to each school should an application be?

As part our College Q & A guide, we decided to ask your questions to the experts. Here are their answers.

Karen Ekman-Baur Director of College Counseling

Some parts of your application are going to be generic; the information you enter will be applicable to all of the institutions to which you’re applying. That’s why it was possible to develop the Common Application, which is accepted by many schools. But that is also why some schools have Supplements to the Common Application. Those Supplements are specific to the institutions requiring them and will ask for information which, in effect, is tailored to the school in question. The Common Application essays should not refer directly to any particular school because they are probably going to several different colleges/universities depending on where you have chosen to submit your applications. Additional essays may be required by a school along with its Supplement, and in that case, you should very much consider the qualities of that specific institution and formulate your essay with thought being given to what you can offer that school and what it can offer you. As always, everything you submit should be authentic and should represent you, your values, and your interests as they really are.


Bill Pruden Head of Upper School, College Counselor

In general the application should be about portraying as fully and as effectively as possible who you are, what you have done, and what you have to offer that school community. That being said, there is not massive room—or need—for variation. However, there may be places where what you offer will be viewed differently depending upon what the school may “need,” and so you should present it that way. Too, there should certainly there should be differences in the essay in response to the often asked question, “Why do you want to go to “insert school name here”? In the end, the key is to let them see who you are. It is then up to them to see if that person fits their institutional needs. Sometimes, it will and sometimes it won’t—but regardless of the definitive answer, it says more about the school than about the applicant.

Jessica Brondo Founder and CEO

Each answer should be as tailored as it can! That being said, do not misrepresent yourself to a school by telling them what you think they would like to hear. Remember that the admissions process is a matching system. Counselors not only look for academic qualifications but also for whether or not they think the student would be a good fit for the school. If they think you would fit the school well and you only told them what they wanted to hear you might be very unhappy there. No school wants to read what is clearly a form essay. You should think about each school as you right your essays, thinking what it is you like about them, etc., but make sure that you tell them about YOU. Telling a school how prestigious it is is something they already know. They want to see why YOU would be great at their school! That’s the most important thing to think about!