Supplemental Insights

During a recent high school visit in DC someone raised a hand and asked, a bit a sheepishly, “Can you explain your supplement?”  One person’s curiosity about Tufts’ idiosyncratic supplement to the Common Application was a roomful of senior’s relief: everyone perked up as the simple question hung in the air.  Pens raised in anticipation like the bows of a violin section awaiting their cue from a conductor.  I almost giggled, not because the question was silly but by the reaction it prompted.  “The teacher is going to tell us what’s on the test!” was the clear vibe in the room.


The question did not surprise me.  In fact I appreciated the chance to explain our thinking about an application supplement that has a decidedly offbeat, even playful, impulse.  Tufts asks some unconventional questions, and that act of collegiate non-conformity is intentional. The supplement is an invitation to think outside the box, to let it rip, to shrug off the fingerprints of well-meaning parents and guidance counselors and older siblings and put your personal stamp on the application.  It’s an opportunity to share your story in your own words and style and format.


So here’s the scoop I shared in DC:  the supplement is our attempt to find your voice.  We see your grades and test scores and related data points in what is usually a very demanding high school curriculum during the senior year.  More often than not, we are impressed by your academic achievements and qualifications.  But here’s the rub, if I may borrow one of Hamlet’s best lines: Nearly three-quarters of the students who applied to Tufts last year were “qualified” for admission.  If we accepted so many students we would explode the scale and scope of our undergraduate program—and we know that the scale and scope of Tufts is one of the attributes you admire.  And so we collect additional, more subjective information to sort a qualified pool into an eclectic, multifaceted class.  Much of that information comes to us via the Common Application—your personal statement, teacher and counselor recommendations, and the like—but we also frame a set of questions on our supplement to, well, supplement that information.  It’s really as simple as that.


One of the questions is Tufts-specific. The 50-word prompt “Why Tufts?” wonders why you included Tufts as one of our college options.  Tufts is a complex place with a multidimensional personality.  We’re curious: which aspects appeal to you?  It’s a required question because it gives us a clue to an essential dimension of our competitive admission process: Is Tufts a good fit for you?  Do we offer the programs and values and culture you seek? 


Don’t over-think the question.  Fifty words is just a couple of sentences. React honestly and directly.  If Tufts “just feels right” then say that; your sense of place is an enormously personal aspect of your college search.  If you are passionate about renewable energy and you are attracted to the solar research that’s being conducted in the School of Engineering, tell us.  And maybe you just think Jumbo is a cool mascot.  (He is.)


Our supplement also requires two 200-word short answer essays.  (We call them “essays” but 200 words is really just a very good paragraph, and your English teacher surely taught you that a single paragraph does not an essay make.)  The two “short” topics are personal and straightforward:


Ø       “There is a Quaker saying: “Let your life speak.” Describe the environment in which you were raised—your family, home, neighborhood or community—and how it influenced the person you are today.”


Ø       Self-identity and personal expression take many forms. Use the richness of your life to give us insight: Who are you?”


Like the “Why Tufts?” question, there is not a “right” or “wrong” answer to these queries.  Each is deliberately elastic.  Each invites thoughtfulness about your identity and beliefs and passions.  Each is organically personal.  As we design and populate our next freshman class, we want it to be as heterogeneous as we can make it.  At Tufts, we want to offer class discussions that stretch your understanding of an idea or topic; we hope late-night conversations in the dorms are spirited and provocative; and we would like your interpersonal interactions to expose you to unexpected points of diversity of thought, creed and background. That’s what smart students like you expect from a high-quality undergraduate experience, so the admissions process at places like Tufts must assess your potential contributions to that equation.  Offer context to your application.  How do you celebrate your individuality?  What gets you out of bed each morning?  More often than not, the short answers pack a wallop.


Finally, our supplement includes an optional, full essay on an array of topics.  And let me be explicit about a key fact: The optional essay really is optional.  There is no penalty if you ignore this section and there is no overt advantage if you complete it.  I say “overt” because, candidly, the quality of the optional essays is often quite strong and high quality information tends to impress the reader who is evaluating an application.  So, indirectly, the optional essay does represent an opportunity for you if one of the topics intrigues you.


The philosophy behind the optional essay reflects the University’s interest in cultivating new leaders who will address the multi-faceted challenges society faces with a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach. That’s not a trite viewbook slogan; it’s a fact of our institutional mission.  It is our goal at Tufts to educate undergraduates who will ask tough questions about contemporary challenges—whether it’s climate change, public health in urban communities, the failing economy, or the ethics of the Internet era—and seek solutions to them. 


In addition to traditional admissions measures of quality like academic achievement and standardized testing, Tufts seeks students who are creative, analytical, practical and wise.  To gauge these qualities we framed a set of questions that explore such characteristics.  Each question on the optional essay section addresses one or several of these attributes.  If one of the topics intrigues you, send us an optional essay.  If you are satisfied with your personal statement on the Common Application as a measure of your writing ability and voice, skip it.  The choice really is yours to make.  And if you prefer a non-verbal format, answer question #6: use an 8×11 sheet of paper to create something—anything—that showcases the way you think.


Our best supplements offer a fresh perspective and an authentic narrative. Don’t second guess the questions and offer an answer you think we want to hear.  Tell us what you want us to know about you. 



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12 responses to “Supplemental Insights

  1. bwolfson

    I just wanted to thank you for this post…I actually found it by searching one of the essay prompts on google, just to see what popped up, and I think your post will be useful. If not useful, it was also a great and interesting read.


  2. jumbofan

    This was most helpful and wonderfully written. I loved the image of DC seniors: “Pens raised in anticipation like the bows of a violin section awaiting their cue from a conductor”

    Thanks for posting this online for us frantic seniors!

  3. Ksen

    Loved it, and very helpful. Thank you!

  4. curious

    This post helped answer a lot of my questions, and honestly, as a result I’m not as stressed.

    Thanks for sharing such clear answers!
    I’m sure those who have found and read this are as grateful as I am!

  5. ditto

    ’nuff’ said.

  6. morgan h

    This blog was helpful AND entertaining. I loved reading it and as “curious” commented, I too feel a lot less stressed! I really appreciate the way you have taken the time to personalize Tufts and give a helping hand to those of us who are..lets just say..freaking out a little bit.

    Thank you for helping all of us keep things in perspective!

  7. Weiwen

    Hi Mr. Coffin, I’ll try to convey my rebel side as clear as possible. (it’ll be fun)

  8. Amanda Frimpong

    I had never heard of supplements till my senior year in high school. But I must say I really enjoyed writing Tufts supplement. It was fun! I never really knew I could write good funny stories but I did. I love your rejuvenates us all..Keep doing the good work!!

  9. Laura

    This was a very nice blog. Does Tufts superscore the ACT? I have subscores from two different tests that would combine to a higher score than my original composite scores.

  10. Alex

    Dean Coffin- thank you so much for your insightful blogs! They are very entertaining and compelling, yet also very valuable. I have a feeling your helpful hints will help when I apply in the fall!
    Thanks again!

  11. Abhushan

    really informative. Thank you so much.

  12. I’m a double Tufts alum (’81 and ’85) thinking of participating in the TAAP interview program. I’ve been researching what Tufts is like today and landed on this informative and entertaining blog. I’m so pleased to see how Tufts has evolved and that what I liked about it 30 years ago has flourished (The co-creation of a diverse community of engaged, unique, interesting individuals). The supplemental application questions and this blog demonstrate that Tufts is still committed to that, and I’m grateful (and will share with my children, now in middleschool, when it’s time for them to consider college applications!)

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