Acing the Personal Statement with a Former Admissions Officer
Need help writing or polishing your personal statement? Learn tips and tricks for writing a strong essay from CollegeAdvisor.com.
Former Admissions Officer Aya Waller-Bey will share her insider knowledge on how to brainstorm and write your Common App personal statement in order to standout to your top colleges during a 60-minute webinar and Q&A session.
In this webinar, you’ll have all your questions answered including:
– How do I start writing my essay?
– What should or shouldn’t I include?
– Who can help me review and edit my essay?
Come ready to learn and bring your questions!
2022-12-05 – Acing the Personal Statement with a Former Admissions Officer
Hello everyone. Welcome to CollegeAdvisor’s Webinar, Acing the Personal Statement with a Former Admissions Officer. To orient everyone with a webinar timing, we’ll start off with a presentation, then answer your questions in a live Q&A on the sidebar. You can download our slides and you can start submitting questions in the live Q&A tab.
Now let’s meet our panelist. Hi everyone. I am Aya Waller-Bey. I’m a former Admissions Officer from Georgetown University, Hoya Saxa. And I’m super excited to be joining you all today. A little bit about me. So I was born and raised in in Detroit, Michigan. I’m a proud first generation college student, and I attended Georgetown University for undergrad, where I study sociology.
I then graduated and became an Admissions Officer and coordinated the multicultural recruitment for the university before earning a scholarship to get my master’s in education at the University of Cambridge in England. While there I did some private admissions consulting from, for companies all over the world, and now I’m currently getting my PhD in sociology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, go blue where I actually studied college admissions, particularly the college admissions essay. So this is a very relevant and salient topic for me, and I look forward to answering your questions later tonight. Okay. Well thank you Aya, for sharing your very impressive background and educational history and where you’re from.
So before we get started into the actual presentation portion, let’s get a sense of what grade you all are in. So please let us know as the poll has already started. I’m gonna give it a few seconds to see the responses coming in.
We have representation from mostly all the high school grade levels with majority, about 43% being in the 11th grade, and then we have about 13% that are other. All right, so I’ll turn it over to you. Fantastic. So again, tonight we’re gonna talk a little bit about, of course, the college personal statement.
So first and foremost, a popular question is, what essays do students have to write for their college applications? So there are several applications that students may encounter in the college application process. The first application is the college personal statement. So that’s the essay that often if you use perhaps the common application or coalition application, you submit one essay that goes to a variety of institutions.
It’s usually an essay that you submit to colleges and universities that showcase your voice, your writing skills, and reveal depth and add context to your application. For the common application, they’re usually one, you choose one of six or seven topics. One question is often choose your own, so students will.
Kind of freestyle, or if they feel like an essay that they’ve written doesn’t necessarily respond to any of the specific questions, they’ll choose that. So again, that college personal statement goes to all the schools that you’re applying to using whatever particular platform. So most commonly, the common app, you then also have supplemental essays, and those are additional essays that invite students to write.
But a variety of topics, often using school specific prompts. And again, I like the personal statement. The supplemental essays are required by only some colleges and universities, and they’re used to highlight fit. So these schools essays rather, are very specific to the institution. They’re often used to show your personality and they often kind of tell you the university a little bit more about why we were applying to their specific.
And then finally you have a scholarship essay. Again, like supplemental essays. This is not necessarily required by all or most institutions. However, it gives students, it provides students an additional essay for merit based scholarships, a grant. So some universities will require an additional essay if you are interested in applying for merit based aid.
Again, that is not specific to all schools. Some schools automatically interview into a merit-based aid pool based on your grades or test scores. But there is, for some schools, a scholarship essay is required. Now what is the significance of the college essay? So the college essay adds some personality or unique touch to your application.
So it’s one of the few opportunities where the uni where the university and or admissions office gets to hear directly from you. So the college application has. You send transcripts, you have letters of recommendations. You have extracurricular activities list, but the essay allows you to talk about yourself and give the university an opportunity to hear your student voice.
It provides opportunity to tell your story in your own words, and it also adds qualitative information to your application, right? So grace and test scores said, The more of your quantitative aspects of the application, but the college essay adds that qualitative, right? It adds the more holistic picture of your application.
Now, what factors make for a great essay and how can students stand out? So this is a very popular and common question, right? Everyone wants to write an essay that they find to be unique or helps ’em stand out. So a great college essay does the following. It presents information and ideas in a focused and thoughtful manner.
So emphasis on focus. You really want to make sure you are cohesive and that you are telling a coherent story. You also use specific concrete examples to convey point. Focus examples on the present in your past. So you often hear people say, show don’t tell. So you really wanna emphasize, you know, you wanna paint the picture from your admissions officers.
You really want to be specific in, in how you tell your stories and use concrete examples. Again, you wanna paint the picture. A great essay also tells admissions officers. Themselves. So you really want to talk about personal triumphs or challenges, leadership opportunities and experiences outside the classroom.
And again, a, a really good essay is telling the university about you and not. Say a grandparent or a coach, you really wanna focus on self. I think sometimes when we talk about how we’re a community with other people, we sometimes lose ourselves in those essays cuz we’re telling, you know, we’re talking about how great our coach was and how they’re a mentor to us.
But sometimes we write so much about the coach that we lose ourselves and write again, the admissions office is looking to emit you and not your coach. So that’s something to keep. And of course demonstrates good use of grammar. So for university, for some universities, the essay is also a writing sample, so they want to see that you’re able to write a cohesive, coherent woe spelled and an essay that has great grammar just to show that there’s proficiency in writing as you matriculate to their institution.
So it is a writing sample to some universities and institutions. So when thinking about, again, what factors make a great essay, here are some additional factors, right? For supplementals in particular, you wanna ensure that essays answer the question. So sometimes I, I find that students want to talk about a particular topic, so they’re.
Trying to contort or fit something that they’re passionate about into an essay prompt. Again, when in doubt you want to answer the question, and that is critical for supplemental essays, which tend to be much shorter than a personal statement. You wanna effectively describe how the experience detailed, or an experience you choose to write about has led to a personal growth or understanding of belongingness in a way that demonstrates substantial maturity, character, and open-mindedness, right?
So it’s not enough to write about an experience. You also wanna talk about. What did you learn? You really want to demonstrate, you know, that it, it is helped your character. You want to be very explicit about this as well. A great college essay also reflects the student’s voice, and again, essays should be polished.
Free major grammatical errors in typos, but it should not read like they were written by a college professor or like myself, someone who’s getting their PhD. Right? There is a distinct student voice that students maintain, particularly those who are in high school. But it should not free like it was written by your parent.
Okay? So you want to make sure that essay is in your voice. You also wanna use, again, specific concrete examples. You wanna focus on these examples that are relevant to you and relevant to what’s happening in your world now or near past. You don’t wanna lean so far that you’re kind of discussing something that happened when you’re in kindergarten, right?
You know, colleges wanna know about you now, right? So, some past experiences may inform who you are, but you wanna, you don’t want to go so far in the past where the essay doesn’t feel relevant to the student you are or, or will be on a college campus. So common mistakes to avoid in college essays. So you wanna avoid, and I said this a little bit about this earlier, you want to avoid writing essays that focus on other people.
So for an example, and this is something we see a lot, you know, writing essays that tell the story of a grandparent without censoring personal experiences. So again, similar to the. Example that I provided earlier. Some students will talk about how their grandparents were so instrumental and why they decided to pursue medicine.
For an example, perhaps a grandparent was unfortunately diagnosed with the disease or infection that informed the students desire to study medicine. However, in describing how the grandparent was impacted or affected, they write an entire essay talking about the grandparent, but don’t mention themselves and.
Universities want to meet want to meet you and want to admit you, and not necessarily your grandparent or your coach. So you want to be careful about that. You also wanna write you wanna avoid writing essays about overly common or controversial topics such as sports and politics. Now, I can tell you, as someone who studies college admissions essays for their own research, sports essays are.
We receive them and read them so often. I mean, they are so popular and I know so many students say, hey, I played hockey for the past 10 years. It is the thing that I feel I’m good at. It has shaped my life. I understand that. And if it’s possible, take a, a new angle, you know, don’t lead into the sport itself.
Talk about what you learned and gain from that experience, right? So you really want to steer clear of just stereotypical essays and sports is one of them. Now, politics is an interesting one, right? So maybe you want to study political science or as what we at my alma mater, Georgetown, we call it government.
So of course you, you perhaps want to talk about politics, what you want to avoid here. Making disparaging comments about a political party or elected official only because you don’t know who’s reading it, right? And you don’t want to offend the sensibilities of the person reading it, right? So you just wanna be mindful of how you engage that particular topic.
But it’s not to say absolutely do not. Write about a hundred percent, you know, but you want to be careful and strategic about how you write about those topics. You wanna avoid writing essays that read like they were written at COL by a college professor. Again, that is very apparent to admissions officers.
We know what a high school student sounds like. Even the high school student who has, you know, college professor parents or go to really. Rigorous and exceptional schools, there is still a pros and voice that students have, so you wanna be careful about that. Don’t allow parents or teachers, or consultants to overed your student voice.
You wanna avoid mentioning experiences without describing them? Again, show don’t tell. So, you know, alluding to experiences, but without describing them really leaves us wanting more. You wanna avoid naming a university or college in the personal statement. So again, the personal statement is something you submit to all your schools.
So if you named Syracuse University by name and that essay also goes to Northwestern and the University of Michigan. That’s awkward, right? The university is gonna be like, wait, you know, why would they name this? So, you know, supplemental essays for sure, you want to be specific and specify, but for that personal statement, you just want to avoid just naming an institution because that essay is gonna go to all the schools.
You wanna avoid overly using it. The sos right? So I sued all the time where students want to use adjectives and synonyms that add color and flavor to their essay. But sometimes the worst don’t necessarily fit the sentence, so you just wanna be careful. It’s okay to say what you mean and be exact and precise in your language.
You don’t have to, you know, lean into the source so much that I or the other admissions officers don’t necessarily know what you’re talking about. So be careful about that. You also wanna avoid complex sentences that could be written in multiple, in smaller sentences. I see this a lot and as a very wordy writer, as someone, again who’s writing long form all the time, it’s something I too have to be very mindful about.
You want to make sure that your one sentence isn’t three paragraphs right? , make sure there’s periods and semis that show when thoughts are changing, so be mindful of that and whenever possible, try to avoid passive a voice. So, you know, really leaning into active voice and just making sure that you are talking about and describing actions as they are occurring, right?
So try to avoid passive the voice whenever possible. It’s usually the more wordy version also, so that is something to keep in mind. Okay, so speaking of writing your essays, I wanna speak to you all about a service that we are offering within CollegeAdvisors. We know that the application that we’re currently right now in application season especially for our seniors, and so making sure that your essays, your supplemental essays are in tip Top Shape, CollegeAdvisor is now offering a new essay editing package.
These packages are designed for seniors in the thick of the application process who may not already be working with CollegeAdvisor.com. If you are registered for a package, you will receive two rounds of unbiased and expert review per essay, all within 72 hours or less. Take the next step to improve your college essays by signing up for an essay editing package using the QR code on the screen.
And so as we get towards the end of the presentation, I will showcase the QR code again in case you were not able to capture it. So I’ll turn it back over to you aa. Thank you. So one of the questions that we often receive from students, you know, how can students work creatively about themselves while still being clear and concise, right?
So sometimes students really, you know, really want to kind of add, as I mentioned earlier, flavor to their applications, right? So I, I think you, I really want to emphasize the importance of balance. So you can use specific concrete examples to convey your points. You know, again, focusing, as I said earlier on examples in the present in your past, you also want to limit.
Flowery and abstract language that does not communicate substantive meaning. And again, I think some students treat the essay as a creative writing exercise. And I think there are some places where that’s appropriate, right? For example, at University of Chicago where they’re asking if you’re a tooth, what would you say?
Right? That is not necessarily that’s a particular type of narrative and prose where you might be a little bit more abstract. But in the personal statement, you really. Clear and concise. You wanna incorporate elements of culture, including language or expressions that reflect distinct cultural experiences.
So that’s a great way for you to add a little flare personality. Right? I’ve, I’ve helped students who talked a little bit about their culture and heritage. So, for example, a Vietnamese student. Who might actually use a little bit of Vietnamese and their essays, of course, they provide the translation, but if they share the wisdom of a parent or a grandparent, they add that and then talk about how that influenced them and their approach to a particular problem or a situation, right?
So add a little bit of flare and culture, particularly from your background identity. That’s important. So you can certainly do that. And also you wanna try to define less well known terms or expressions in your essays. So, I’m an academic, so we’re always encouragement, boy, jargon, which is really hard sometimes.
So something may be relevant or something you’re more common or, or sorry, more aware of. However, your reader may not know what on earth you’re talking about, so you do wanna define less well known terms were expressions. This also includes colloquial expressions too, and I know I. As, you know, generations come up.
There’s all types of lingo and language used on social media, TikTok and et cetera, but you don’t wanna assume that the admissions officers reading your essay know what that is. So you want to define and you don’t have to say X means this, right? Lit means this, but you want to be able to communicate more effectively and clearly.
So do people reading your essay know what you referring to and know what you’re talking. So as far as editing essay, there are a few things to to think about. You know, I always tell students, whenever possible to use the read aloud feature on Microsoft Word is something. Again, I’m working on a fellowship application right now, and it’s a feature that I use quite often, especially if I’m been working on an essay or a statement for a very long time.
Sometimes you know what you meant to say. So it’s easy for your mind to glaze over errors. So you wanna use that feature so it can read it to yourself. You can adjust the speed so you can hear what you wrote, and you can be like, wow, I used the wrong word there. You want to proofread, right? So that’s different from just like reading over it.
You want to make sure that you’re using words appropriately. So there’s an example, you know, that I’ve used before. A student can say, I enjoy torturing animals. I volunteer torturing animals at a local shelter since eighth grade. And the experiences solidified my desire to become a veterinarian. Now I am sure the student didn’t mean torture.
Right? Right. And torture and torturing is spelled correctly in this example, but the student is not trying to torture animals. And that’s not the type of message you wanna send to a university anyway. But maybe they meant training. Right. Torture training. You know, they just typed it in and it just, again, because it dis spelled correctly, the, it, it was, it was missed as they looked to edit.
Right? So you want to make sure you were taking the time to proofread and use the Microsoft Word read aloud feature if possible. I tell students to sleep on it, right? So after finishing a draft, take 24 hours before reviewing it again and again, this is advice I apply to my own life as I’m writing all the time for my PhD.
Take some time, you know, read it with fresh eyes sometimes you’re so invested and so involved. You, you miss things. You also wanna have a teacher, counselor, or someone you trust review a statement. I mean it. I do this all the time, especially when I’m thinking I’m ready to submit. I say, wait, let me have a friend or someone who’s never seen this statement before, a professor or a mentor.
I want them to read it just to see for if they’re gonna catch anything that I’ve missed, right? So I wouldn’t in doubt. Have someone you trust review your state. So a popular question I often receive from students, and some of you all may have that question, that is, what are those essays that have stood out to me?
Right? So I find students who are reflexive and reflect on even mo mundane experiences. I find those essays to be very interesting. So students who reflect on their, their ambition and their growth are tend to send out students who highlight their tenacity, right? Their courage. I think really stand out to me.
And also essays that paint, cultural photos of the human experience. And I think an essay like that for an example, you know, I, I worked with a student who worked at Jimmy John’s and kind of talked about all the interesting people that they met, you know, working in the drive through window and you might say like, That’s boring or typical, but there’s something about students who’ve had jobs, particularly jobs where they had to interact with just like regular people, where they’re able to paint this beautiful picture of like, what does it mean to be human?
What does it mean to engage with difference? What does it mean to, to interact with someone who might disagree with you? Someone who have a different. Experience someone who has a different identity and like how do you navigate just a common experience, right? Our universities tend to be very specific spaces that have very, you know, students with very specific backgrounds and identities and like, what does it mean to just be a normal person interacting with a customer at Jimmy Johns?
So I think those essays tend to really sing and speak to me.
So as we think about kind of essays, again, you know, some of the, the final tips that I would recommend, so I said this earlier and I will continue to repeat it. You really want to show and and just not tell, right? You really want to explain. So instead of saying, I learned a lot voluntary at the Cleveland Animal Shelter, you might wanna consider.
While feeding the sick puppies with the other shelter volunteers, I learned the importance of teamwork and compassion, right? So instead of, you know, you, you say you volunteer. That’s great. Woo. We love people who volunteer and give back, right? Service incredibly. Incredibly important to, to the world. And also universities really love well-rounded young people.
But you also wanna show, like, you also wanna tell like what happened, right? You just, you just want to really highlight and emphasize like what happened, right? And then for, in this particular example, you know, you talk about the experience so. While feeding the sick puppies with other volunteers. Right.
So you’re talking about the act and you’re also talking about with whom you participate in. Right. So it talk when you say you learned the importance of teamwork and compassion. The puppies were sick, compassion, teamwork. You were working with other volunteers, so you really want to explain as much as you can.
You also wanna talk about shared lessons learned, so you wanna detail how the experience you write informs your future on the type of student you’ll be at in college, right? So if you did volunteer at Tanzania or you just. Mentor, you know, freshman and sophomores in math at your local high school, you really wanna talk about what did you learn?
How did you grow from that? You know, what types of experiences will you then carry on to a college campus? Because universities are looking for students who are gonna add to their college campus. So it’s great that you wanna study biology and you wanna be a physician if you only work at and volunteer at hospitals.
But what type of student will you be on a college campus? How will you add to the community? What type of roommate will you be? Right? What type of mentee will you be? What type of teacher assistant? If you choose to do that, what type of research assistant will you be? So you really want to. Kind of where, you know, whenever relevant, kind of talk about like how you would show up in, in, in the, in the classroom, in the dorm, in a club, in a sport.
What type of teammate will you be? You really wanna be able to demonstrate that, as I’ve said before, proof free. Proof free proofread. You wanna use, again, the read aloud feature on Microsoft Word. If you have access to that platform, you wanna capture correctly. Spell words used in the wrong way, for an example, torture versus train.
Most importantly, you want to tell your story. Again, that personal statement is about you. It is about your background. It is about your experience. It’s about the lessons you learned. Okay? So you wanna write about your own experiences and not someone else’s.
Okay. Thank you Aya for sharing all this great information. That concludes our presentation portion of the webinar this evening. We are now gonna move into the live Q&A, so how it’s gonna work, I’m gonna read the questions out loud. Feel free to. Past your questions or place your questions into our Q&A tab, I will paste them so that everyone can publicly see them.
So first question that we have, it says I’m a junior in high school. Can I start my college list as soon as I finish my list? I don’t want to start close to the deadline. So this is the student who wants to get the early. On writing their college essays. First of all, that student that is, I’m so proud of you for having a college list and thinking about this in advance.
I strongly encourage students to start early. So one, a few things to keep in mind. So some universities, let me rewind that. The common app where students are often submitting the majority of their applications for schools that allow you to submit for the common app, which are again, the majority universities that mo, you know, most students are applying to, allows that.
They have a set of questions that tend to be the same there like every year. So you can go online, you can literally type in common. Person statement questions and see those topics and begin to draft essays. It is never too early to do that, right? One thing you wanna keep in mind, however, is supplemental essays, which are those university and school specific topics, sometimes change in very year per year.
University of Chicago is an example where they actually use essays. Dartmouth too, I believe they use essays submitted from the previous class to determine how to, you know, create supplemental essays. So you might wanna just wait for those. But I think it’s taught, like, it’s certainly in the summer in particular, and that goes for as juniors and sophomores the summer before your senior year, really kind of taking that time to start drafting personal statements.
And again, for the common app, there is a, you know, choose your own topic essay. So you might write a personal statement, a, an essay that you feel. Communicates to a university what you want them to know about you. And that could be the essay you ultimately submit or the version of the essay. Cuz there are multiple drafts.
It takes multiple drafts to submit a really high quality essay. So yeah, you can certainly start, you can literally look now on the comment app to see what the essay topics are and you could start playing around with those essays. So I really encourage students to start early again, preferably in the summer before their senior year because you do not want to.
Halloween applying for early action or early decision deadlines, which are November 1st typically. And you definitely don’t want to be rushing for those regular decision deadlines, which are right at the start of the new year, most of the time. Great, great. This question was submitted in our registration list, and I remember you responding to this in one of our previous webinars.
How long should a personal statement. I, I believe it’s 500 or 650 words, I think is the standard personal statement length. Mm-hmm. ? Yeah. I think it’s six 50 max usually. Yes. Yes. Thank you. And then our next question is how do I effectively transition from something that happened to me in the past?
and how that affects me now without being wordy. Well, you ha I mean, you have to be succinct, right? Or piy. So you have to think about what do you want to communicate to the admissions office? And I think for for some students, they feel like all those details at color, right? But you also want to think about.
It’s really important. If you look at every, every sentence and say, what does this sentence say about me? What does this sentence add to the conversation? You know, is this a transition sentence? Does this tell the university X? So sometimes we have additional context that that’s not necessary. It doesn’t add anything, anything to the story or conversation.
So you really just have to focus. Being intentional about every sentence you write, every sentence should serve a purpose. It might be the way you transition. It might be the thesis. It might be the conclusion it might It might communicate this particular value or or that the university asked about.
It might communicate a particular quality that you possess, say your tenacity or your resilience or your humor. So just be very, every time you write, you know, you write a draft, I want you to go through every sentence to say what purposes to serve. Does this add, does this respond to the prompt? Does this add as a transition sentence?
Does this Does this communicate a certain value belief that I have you, or a value belief that the university said that they want based on their website and the question. So you just wanna go through every sentence and say, how is this answering the question? What purpose does this serve? And I think when you do that, it’ll allow you to be more succinct and concise in your.
Okay. Our next question reads, are these essays usually in the third person or first person? First person, yes. Next question is let’s see.
I am thinking about writing my essay about a disability I was born with. I assume that this is a pretty popular topic, so I’m just wondering how can I make myself stand out? Well, I, I actually bet to differ. I actually don’t think that’s a common topic. First of all, I mean, your disability is your disability.
So not everyone has the same disability. Not everyone chooses to write about disability because of their own kind of impression. Some people think disabilities are still stigmatized, so they may choose to not write about it. I. You live your life. Like you, you walk a mile, you walk a block in your own shoe.
So I, I can’t say, I wouldn’t say that is a common topic. I mean, as someone who’s worked in, in higher education and admissions for almost. Nine years now. I, I, I can say from my experience that students writing about disabilities is actually not a common thing. And disabilities look differently.
There’s so many disabilities that, that exist, that writing about how something deeply and personally affected you as someone who had to wake up in this, the body with the, you know, that I think that I, I don’t. If that is a common thing. So I would not be concerned about that. I will write the story that you want to write and the voice that you wanna write in it, and, and I wouldn’t worry about writing about your disability being a common topic because at the end of the day, it is your story and that how that disability impacts or affects your livelihood will look very differently based on a lot of different factors, resources, location, identities, et cetera.
So I wouldn’t worry too much about.
Thank you. I’ve heard a lot about needing a first line that hooks the reader. How do I approach this? Well, it depends on the topic, but I mean, students do a lot of different things. I mean, I’ve seen students paint a picture, so something like, you know, say if they want to write about. Summer camp and they, they, they paint a picture from a, you know, the first day of like summer camp training.
You know, as I walked, you know, to the, to the log cabin. I didn’t see anyone. I didn’t realize, you know, I didn’t realize I would feel so isolated. And then I walked into the warm cabin and saw 10 faces looking at me, and I realized that I found my calling. You know, so students will sometimes paint a picture.
And you’re like, Hmm, where are they going? Where are they going with this? And then it’ll kind of lead into that. Some students will use quotes, right? That Martin Luther King once said, you know, those tend to be a little cliche. Life is a boss of childhood. I kind of steer, steer students from using like cliches are very popular quotes.
Some students might start with white words of wisdom. My grandmother always said x. And if those are like quirky or something uncommon, those can be funny. I feel like the. Common approach. I, I feel like students. They kind of paint a picture and you like, Hmm, where are we going? You know, I think about my own personal statement where I kind of talked about coming to a coming home and there was glass everywhere, and I went up the stairs and the glass crackled underneath my boots, and you were like, where is she going with this?
And then it’s a big reveal. So I feel like that’s the most common approach. Painting the story, then it’s the big reveal. Again, quotations. I, I personally don’t recommend that that can be a little cliche. Words of wisdom from, you know, family members, grandparents, teachers educate us, mentors Yeah, so there, I mean jokes, there’s a lot of different ways.
I will say. I never said, I never read it. I say, I was like, that first sentence was so amazing. I’m gonna admit this student , you know, it’s not, the first sentence is not going to determine whether or not you are admitted. Okay? So you do want something that engages admissions officers, cuz they’re gonna read thousands upon thousands of applications, but it is not going to, you want it to be strong, but I’ve never read an essay and I read a first sentence, it was like, I’m admitting that student. So it takes more, right? You have to paint a picture, you have to tell a story, and you have to talk about growth and those things that I talked about earlier.
Okay. Our next question reads, does your personal statement have to match your major? So for example, do you need to discuss experiences in medicine slash bio? If you are selecting a bio major or can you talk about other experiences? You can definitely talk about other experiences. That’s a phenomenal question.
Whoever asked that. Yeah, so no, you can definitely talk about other experiences. In fact, I always tell students who are. Intending to major in stem, cuz most of those, most of the time you also have to write a major specific or supplemental essay that talks about those experiences. Oftentimes, your extracurricular activities will respond to, you know, your STEM related interests.
So that personal stem is an opportunity to talk a little bit and more about. You show a little bit more about your personality show, add a little bit more flare personality, show how you’re well-rounded so you do not have to use a personal statement to talk about your major. That is a, that’s a phenomenal question, and that’s something that students often feel like they have to do, and that’s not, that’s not true at all.
You can talk about your love for skateboarding and your personal statement, and you can want to major in biochem and your, your extracurricular activities, your letter recommendations, and the supplemental essays will add. To that you, you want to paint a picture that you’re well-rounded and have interest because again, that adds, that adds so much to a college campus.
So, great question. Okay, so this question was submitted in our registration list. Can you repeat things in your personal statement that can be found elsewhere in your profile, such as like extracurricular achievements, classes. Yeah, for sure you can. You, you don’t want it to be you know, a complete regurgitation of, you know, something that we found, find elsewhere.
But, you know, for example some students might talk about how Again, say you may have worked at a hospital and that’s of course in your extracurricular activities and your personal statement kind of talks about how you had an experience at the hospital that transformed your perspective and informs what you want to study in college, or the person you are, or the person you want to be.
There’s some alignment there, so you can absolutely do that. I do tell students, you know, if. You know, you don’t want to continue to repeat yourself, right? So you don’t want the personal statement to be the same thing you see in the supplement, which, the same thing the teacher, you really want to try to continue to add to this picture that you’re painting.
So you don’t want to repeat every aspect of your application and the personal statement, but you can add, you know, there are ways where there’s, you know, I, I’ve had students who. We’re part of dance teams, right? So the course that’s in their extra critical activities, but they want to write about dance and, and the dance team and that personal statement and that, and that’s fine, you know I don’t encourage them to then write about it in supple, in a supplemental essay, you wanna write about something else in a supplemental essay, but it’s okay if you’re, you, you talk about something you’ve written other parts of the application.
Next question. Can you write about wanting to be a scientist, but being scared because you’re a girl or is that cliche? No, I mean, s sadly, it’s the reality unfortunately, because of, you know, gender discrimination and the way young girls and women are socialized. I’m a sociologist, so I can, I’ll be here all day talking about that gender inequality.
But no, I don’t think. Particularly cliche. I mean, again, every essay is different. So how you choose to tell that story will look differently based on your own personal experiences. So maybe you had encounters in a classroom where you were discouraged from studying or taking a AP calculus class. That was actually my own experience.
So, you know, if, if that is something you encounter, by all means, write about that. I don’t think that’s cliche. I think unfortunately that is a, a reality still. And that, you know, young girls, women, you know, people of color, et cetera, face in academia. So no, if that’s the story you wanna tell, write about it.
Okay, so we’re gonna take a short pause for me to share a little bit more about CollegeAdvisor. So earlier I spoke about our essay review service that we’re offering currently for seniors who need that last minute look over their college essays before they submit it. But for those who are not already working with us, we know, you know, how overwhelming the admission process can be.
And so our team of over 300 former admission officers and admission experts are ready to help you and your family navigate it all in one-on-one advising sessions. Take the next step in your college admission journey by signing up for a free consultation. Using the QR code on your screen. During the consultation, a member of our team will review your current extracurricular list, discuss how it lines up with your college goals, and help you find opportunities for growth and leadership.
After scanning the QR code, you’ll be able to select a date and time for a phone conversation with a member of our. So let’s continue with our remainder questions and answer, and the QR code will stay on the screen for you all. Our next question reads can I pre-write things like the extracurriculars on the common app?
And I would assume this is for a student who’s not a senior. Absolutely. I will encourage all students, whether you’re a first year or freshman, rather, sophomore or junior, to think about your activities. I encourage students to, if you don’t have a resume or what I like to call a master resume, which is a.
A document where you list all of your activities. So all in every award, maybe you have speaking engagements, maybe you volunteer, maybe you have internships. You want one place where all of that stuff is listed. The common app only gives you space, pretend extracurricular activities, and I believe five awards.
So write all those things out and you want to talk about, you know, impact. So if you. If you are a word of the class president, you know, if you’re the junior class you wanna talk about, you know, how many programs you put on, how many students you served, et cetera. But that is something you absolutely should do ahead of time.
The common app has character limits. So there are I believe it’s 150 characters for a description of activities, so you can start playing around with that, right? How to be succinct, right? How to be specific and concise because you won’t have a paragraph worth the space to talk about, but I strongly encourage you to start that early creative resume with all of your activities.
You know, if you done it, you know, ninth grade to 10th grade, ninth grade to, you know, senior year, what your leadership role was and what you did, your impact, you want to emphasize that. So that’s incredibly important. And also something to remember that universities are not really concerned about activities or things you’ve done in middle school.
So you do wanna focus on your high school extracurriculars. Thank you. Thank you. This question reads, how would a personal statement essay for an engineering school differ from a personal essay for a medical school? Well, it depends on what the essay is. So it’s really, I mean, the essay prompt rather, it’s very kind of, it’s hard to answer that question.
I mean, what is the essay question asking you? Are they. If it’s just a personal statement, the statement you submit to all the schools, you know, via common application or coalition application or the common black college application, then it doesn’t necessarily vary. You just submit that one essay angles to all the schools.
The supplemental essays will vary, right? Because the courses you’ll take in engineering will look a little different, the courses you’ll take for pre-med, right? And I think. One thing for students who are in, say, pre-med like, which is like a pre kind of kind of prep program, similar to pre-law as well.
You can study anything. You can study. So sociology, you can start study art history and you can be a physician. For engineering it tends to be a little bit more stringent as far as the program that you the course selection you have because there are, as. There tend to be a little bit more kind of courses that you have to take to fulfill those requirements.
So it really doesn’t look differently on the personal statement side. It would just depend on whatever the prompt is for those supplemental essays and if the, those schools, the engineering school versus the. College, which is really, cuz there’s usually no premed, there’s no pre-med school. The pre the, the pre-med is often housed in whatever the college of arts and science is.
You could study biology and et cetera. But it, it really just depends on what the prompt is. So it’s really hard to say matter. In fact, that’s a very prompt, specific question. But for personal statement, you’ll, it doesn’t matter. There’s no. Okay. This question is, is the personal statement, like your first impression for coaches when they see your profile, and I would assume coaches admission officers, those who are reviewing the application.
So is the personal statement your first impression? Mm-hmm, this was from our Yes. Yes. It’s no. I mean, so student, that’s an interesting question. So I mean, The first impress, it depends on how universities read applications. You know, it depends on what they read first. I mean, if they read the essay first, which is rare, that’s usually not the order in which universities read applications, then it will be the first impression.
But from my experience, universities are not reading the essays first. They’re looking at grades first. Grades are again, which I’ll say here, and I’ve said this in every other webinar that I’ve done. Your transcript, your high school transcript, the grades you’ve earned throughout your three to four years in high school are the most important aspect of your college application.
So that is normally the first impression that universities have is from your grade. And then from there it could be test scores if they require them or if they look at them, you know, our Californian school systems are now testing test blind. Then it could be letters of recommendation. It could be extracurricular activities.
So schools read different things at different times, but I’ll tell you the first and foremost, the most important thing is to the grades. So that tends to be the first thing that student universities look at. So I can’t really think of any example where the essay was the first thing admissions officers read for that to be the way that they paint the picture of the applicant.
Okay. Our next question is, how do I write a personal statement that will catch the attention of recruiters, but doesn’t seem to be egotistical? Well, well, I, I mean, universities don’t know what you don’t tell them, so, There’s very few. I can’t really think of many examples where I read an essay and I was like, this person is a narcissist.
Like, I, I don’t necessarily feel that way. I mean, it’s, it’s a really, it’s, it’s an opportunity for you to talk about who you are. So, I mean, there’s usually very specific prompts. So if it tells you something, if it asks you to write about something you’ve overcome, you know, read about that. If it asks to talk about, like how do you define your community and what makes community special?
right about that. I will worry less about being egotistical and you just really want to kind of really paint a really great picture. Again, you wanna show and not tell. So you, again, we don’t know we being a missions office, we don’t know unless you tell us, right? Unless your letter writer tells us So.
If you wanna talk about where appropriate, an award that you received, then talk about that. But usually there’s another place in the application to do that. You know, the, the person serve us the opportunity to add, again, a qualitative aspect to talk about who you are. And I, again, I can’t really recall an example where I was like, oh, this student just really bragged about everything because that, that’s usually.
Not the approach to essays. You just wanna tell your story and some students are incredibly exceptional and that’s okay to tell that story, but we really don’t know about you unless you tell us. So I will worry less about looking, you know, egotistical or just more about making sure you are painting an authentic picture about your lived.
Okay. Next question is, how important is the personal statement, weight, weight, in comparison to the rest of the application? Should you use it to explain the rest of the mandatory questions? So the first part of that question how important, so when I add, when I interview s officers for my own research on a scale of one to five, the importance you know, one not being important and five being the most I importance, they often say three.
So it’s really kind of in the middle, right? It again, it provides more kind of qualitative and explanatory kind of information about. Your, your profile, your background, et cetera. So it’s important, but again, the grades are the most important thing. Now, the second part, what was that second part of the question is mandatory questions.
What, what was it? Let me search for it. So should you use it to explain the rest of the mandatory questions? I don’t know. What does that mean? Explain the rest of the mandatory questions. I’m not, I’m, I’m, I’m not sure what that, that question means. I mean, some schools have mandatory questions. I, I would, I’m just my inklings to say no.
If the questions are mandatory and there’s a space to, to respond to them, use that space to respond to them. Don’t take up the personal statement space to do so. That’s my, like, natural response. But I’m still, I’m a little unclear about that question, the second part of that question. Okay. Yeah. So, They pro, they provide a little clarification.
Perhaps you had like poor grades one year and maybe explaining why. Yes. Okay. I see. No, so the personal statement is not the space for that. There are other spaces to talk about that. There’s usually a, if there, usually there’s a prompt that says if there’s other, if there’s something else you wanna talk with, tele admissions office, et cetera, use that space.
And that’s also an opportunity for letter writers, particularly college counselors, high school counselors who kind of talk about that as well. But you don’t wanna use a personal statement to talk about why you might have a C minus or whatever. Especially I think still currently universities or Common App has that covid question still because the students applying to, to college now are, are still a part of the, the students who were deeply affected by c and going virtual and et cetera.
So then there might be a separate covid essay, but I would not encourage you to use the personal statement to talk about those things. That’s a great question. Can I use the same personal essay for multiple schools? Yes. Mm-hmm, please do. And then what is the best way to incorporate what major you’re interested in, into your essay?
Well, it, it depends because I, it’s not always necessary, right? So there’s schools that only require personal statement, and that there, you’re just really kind of talking about who you are, and you might say, You know, in that personal statement, because you know, my experiences, you know, growing up with an incarcerated sibling has made me deeply committed to criminal justice.
And that’s why I wanna talk up. That’s why I wanna be a lawyer and study political science at Georgetown. I’m just using my alma mater so that you can talk about it there, but there’s sometimes where it’s not necessary. Usually there are supplemental essays where you could talk about majors.
Sometimes universities ask why major questions. So it’s not always necessary. Again, if it, if it’s aligned with your personal background, I would, I, I say there might be a natural fit to do so, but you will not unless the prompt ask to talk about your major. You would not be dinged if, for lack of better words, if you choose not to talk about your major in a personal statement.
This is only if the prompt asks for that and you choose to oit it. But if it does not ask for you to talk about your your potential major, it’s okay if you choose to write about something else. If you want to incorporate it in, just make sure that it’s like a natural fit and then. Also because the personal statement is something as essay, you’ll submit to multiple schools.
Just be mindful, like if you talk about wanting to study political science, Georgetown calls political science government. So you need to be conscious of that because you’re gonna submit the same essay to multiple schools. So that’s just something to keep in mind, but. I don’t know. Just think about the ways that your, if you want to write about your intended major, I mean, there’s a why behind that, right?
So just incorporate that, why that motivation, that thing that connects you to that particular area of interest. And, and you can write an essay that way, but it is not necessary. Unless the prompt is asking you to write about why do you wanna study psychology? Then you should write about it. Okay.
And then are all colleges are not on the common app, so how can I get the main idea for their essays? Is that through their website? Yes. So right. Not all colleges are on the common app. Again, Imma mater Georgetown, it’s not just visit their website. Sometimes you can type, you know, university of Colorado.
Essay questions, you know, and, and it’ll pop right up. You wanna verify when in doubt go to the college app website, the admissions website to see and if you, if you have trouble, again, this is my favorite piece of advice, call the admissions office. I think sometimes we feel intimidated and feel like, oh no, if I call and have like, I don’t know, they’re gonna like, think I’m not competent.
No, absolutely not. I call admissions offices. I mean, the amount of times I’ve called. For students like I call all the time, so call the admissions office and just say, Hey, I was looking at your website. I can’t find the essay prompts. Where can I find them? And they’re happy to assist you. So also when you have a question, a, a university or institution specific question.
Please by all means, call the university you know, after school or a parent can call to, to get, you know, that, that information. Sometimes emails can get a little lost, especially for universities who travel during the fall to visit high schools. But you can also call right to get those answers as well.
Okay. Well that was our final question for this evening. So thank you Aya, for sharing more about this topic and you know how to ace the personal statement. . And with that, I just wanna share that we do have a few webinars that are happening for the remainder of this month. I know we’re at the start of this month, so we have them listed right there.
If you’re interested, please sign up every month we have different webinars that we’re offering. And again, if you are interested in speaking to one of our representatives from CollegeAdvisor.com. There will be a screen that will pop up immediately after the webinar. So with that, thank you all. Thank you again Aya and have a great evening everyone.