How to Write the Purdue University Supplemental Essays: Guide + Examples 2020/2021
This is a classic extracurricular activity essay. So you’ve created your own tutoring business for local kids, started a summer concert in the park to raise money for your high school’s music program, and had an incredible internship with a robotics company. Which one do you write about?
Your most impressive activity may not always make for the best essay. You could write an incredible essay about babysitting your neighbor’s son and teaching him how to stand up to bullies and a totally boring essay about interning at Microsoft.
Take a look at your Common App essay and make sure to avoid too much overlap. Remember that all of your activities will be in the Activities List with descriptions.
You’ll find a pretty in-depth, step-by-step guide to the extracurricular activity essay at this link, with specific advice for the 150-word format (you’ve got 250 so you can expand!) and some great examples near the end. We recommend using that post to guide you as you’re writing.
But if you want to see the short version, here’s what to do:
Go to your Common App Activities List and pick 2-3 possible topics.
Then, go through the Best Extracurricular Activity Brainstorm I’ve Ever Seen (aka BEABIES Exercise), either mentally or by filling out the chart. This will help you decide which topic might yield the most content for your essay. If you’re unsure, maybe do a simple outline for two different topics.
Write a draft! To guide you, each of those columns could provide a sentence or two of your first draft that you can tweak later.
General tip: Be careful about writing about an activity you’ve already shared a lot about elsewhere in your application. If you’ve already written about your most important extracurricular activity in your main Common App personal statement, for example, you might consider writing about your second or third most important activity. This essay is your chance to say, “Hey, there’s this other cool thing I’ve spent some time doing that I haven’t told you guys about yet!”
Here’s a great Purdue supplemental essay example for this prompt:
I live in the suburb of Los Angeles, California, known to its residents as the bubble. It has the perfect weather, location, and schools. As amazing as it sounds, however, growing up in La Cañada Flintridge has its drawbacks: the community pressures adolescents to achieve success through mainly academic means. While this approach isn’t necessarily wrong, it can be difficult, particularly in my high school, to thrive in a creative and imaginative way.
Sophomore year, my friends and I began to wonder, What if the teenagers of La Cañada had greater opportunities to express themselves. To pursue their creativity. To follow their dreams.
That’s when we decided to start the Catalyzing Creativity Club.
Founded two years ago, the Catalyzing Creativity Club (C3, for short), provides students in our community the opportunity to pursue their passion and aspirations outside the classroom.
Some of our opportunities include: a yearly music festival for our community’s young aspiring musicians that showcases local talent to the masses and scouts; a technology expo, which allows students to be rewarded with funding and demonstrate their coding abilities to prospective companies; recording sessions for aspiring musicians, photo-publishing competitions, and a variety of guest speakers ranging from nineteen-year-old college seniors to millionaire entrepreneurs. In addition, we have a blog for aspiring writers to publish their work and are holding a shoe drive for underprivileged athletes.
As vice president of finances for C3, I work to ensure we can fund these activities. I handle our bank account, fundraising, and organize the event planning. Moreover, I make sure that C3’s activities and finances are approved by and follow the guidelines of my high school. This role is crucial, as we work to achieve non-profit status.
Even though C3 is only a few years old, I believe it is already making an impact in the community. As we grow and the opportunities we provide become more popular, our hope is to inspire our peers to follow their dreams and burst the La Cañada Flintridge bubble. (332 words)
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Note: this example essay is a little over the word limit for this prompt (since it was written for another school), but you can do the same great work in 250 words.
Tips + Analysis:
Consider setting up your essay with a problem. The problem doesn’t have to be something massive like world peace. In fact, maybe don’t pick a problem like that. Why? Because world leaders have been trying to solve it for a long time, so it seems unlikely that you’ll articulate a problem and solution in 250 words. Pick a small, real-world problem that you’ve been working on. Then give us a sense of why it’s a big deal. For a longer walk-through on how to use this sort of opening, click here and search for the words “Elon Musk.”
Tell us what you’ve done—and not just what your club has done. Notice how the “Some of our opportunities include” paragraph identifies a wide range of ways the C3 club has worked to solve the problem identified at the start of the essay. But the author doesn’t stop there. In the next paragraph, he specifies what his particular role has been. Help the reader understand both.
End with impact. Whom did the work impact? How? And how will the work you’ve done survive when you go off to college? TBH, this essay could have done a bit better job of describing the impact that the club has had. In general, though, community transformation and lasting impact are key pillars of a great activity essay because they show the college that you’re someone who’s likely to make a lasting impact at Purdue (and wherever you’re applying).
Some more tips for your extracurricular activity essay:
Try to tie the extracurricular activity or work experience of choice back to a specific value in your life. Rather than just state what you did plainly, you can help make it resonate for the reader more by connecting the experience to a value you’re committed to.
Use active verbs so that readers get a clear sense of what you’ve done. This just makes things more engaging and dynamic overall.
Write it long first, then cut it. In our experience, this tends to be easier than writing a very short version and then trying to figure out what to add.
Don’t forget to include specific impacts, even if they’re brief. You want to connect your time and energy to a meaningful outcome. You should be able to say, “I did X, and that resulted in Y.” The Y is just as important as the X because it shows your work paid off and (maybe even) inspired some kind of change.