Admissions Officer Advice: Making Your Essays Shine

Are you a high school student gearing up for the college application process? Do you want to stand out from the competition and make your essays truly shine? Join our exclusive webinar, “Admissions Officer Advice: Making Your Essays Shine,” where our seasoned admissions officer Aya Waller-Bey will share invaluable advice and insider tips to help you craft compelling and impactful college application essays.

Designed specifically for high school students and their parents, this webinar will provide you with the tools and knowledge to create standout essays that will captivate admissions officers and increase your chances of getting accepted into your dream colleges.

During the webinar, you can expect to learn:

  • The importance of a strong essay in the college application process
  • How to choose compelling essay topics that showcase your unique strengths and experiences
  • Techniques to grab the reader’s attention from the very first sentence
  • Dos and don’ts of essay writing to avoid common pitfalls
  • Tips for showcasing your personality, passions, and accomplishments through storytelling
  • Insight into what admissions officers look for in a standout essay
  • Ways to revise and edit your essays to make them polished and impactful

By attending this webinar, you will gain invaluable insights directly from an admissions officer who has reviewed countless college application essays. Their expertise will empower you to make your essays shine and leave a lasting impression on admissions committees.

Don’t miss this opportunity to receive expert guidance and advice to craft outstanding college application essays. Register now and set yourself up for success in the competitive college admissions process!

Date 09/11/2023
Duration 1:00:29

Webinar Transcription

2023-09-11 – Admissions Officer Advice: Making Your Essays Shine

Hello, everyone. Welcome to CollegeAdvisors webinar, “Admission Officer Advice: Making Your Essays Shine.” To orient everyone with the webinar timing, we’re first going to begin with a presentation, and then the second half of our webinar, we’ll have the opportunity to answer your questions in a live Q& A.

Before we get started in the presentation portion, let’s first meet our panelists.

Hi everyone. I am Aya Waller-Bey. I am a former admissions officer from Georgetown University. Today I’ll be talking to you about my favorite thing, the college personal statement and helping to make your admissions essay shine. So a little bit about me. I’m born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and I’m a first generation college student.

Just so you know, that means I was the first person in my family to attain a four year degree. I studied at Georgetown University and studied sociology. And after I graduated, I became an admissions officer. And I went for four states in the Midwest, so Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. And I also coordinated the multicultural recruitment.

After my tenure in admissions, I actually received a scholarship to go to Cambridge in England and earn my MPhil or my Master’s in Philosophy in Education at the University of Cambridge. And while there, I became an alumni interviewer. So I actually got to interview Georgetown applicants in England, which was a really fun and interesting experience.

I am now earning my PhD in Sociology at the University of Michigan. where I also studied the college admissions essay. So a lot of expertise in the college admissions essay and incredibly excited to get to know you all and answer your questions and talk about how to make your essay shine. Very impressive background.

I so before we get started in the presentation, actually, we just met our panelists, but we do want to get a sense of what grade you are in. We know that the application process doesn’t just begin. the summer of 12th grade year. So let us know. Okay. I have the responses coming in and it looks like 72 percent of our audience are in the 12th grade.

Followed by that, we have a 16 percent 11th grade, and then we have a small percentage of audience members that are in 10th grade as well as other. Awesome. So yeah, so we will go ahead and get So let’s get started. So to begin, make sure we’re on the right slide.

One second. I’m having trouble with the The slide deck. No worries. Yeah.

Okay. So I can’t seem to get it to. Move work. Oh, yeah. 1st, let’s go to the 1st slide. Here we go. All right. So to begin you know, 1 thing. You know, we first need to establish what types of essays that you are going to be writing for the college application. So first and foremost, and this perhaps is the most popular essay, is the college personal statement.

So the college personal statement is the essay that you submit to colleges and universities that showcase your voice, your writing skills, and reveal depth and add context to the application. The college essay is a really great opportunity for you to talk about who you are, Really allow the admissions officers to get to know you and also to write about something that’s meaningful to you.

It’s also the essay that will, you will stand to the majority of the schools that require them. So what I mean by that is you’ll write one college essay or one college personal statement rather. Say if you’re applying on the Common App, you pick one of the to respond to one of the six or seven essay prompts, and that one essay will go to all of your schools.

Then you have Supplemental Essays. So Supplemental Essays are additional essays that invite students to write about a variety of topics, and those topics are often very specific to the school and the institution. Unlike the Personal Statement, They’re only required by only some colleges and they tend to be the colleges that are a little bit more selective or lottery schools, schools where they’re receiving thousands upon thousands of students who all have the grades and test scores to be admissible, but they have to be able to find some way to distinguish the applicants.

So that’s usually when you see the supplemental essays come into place. And again, they’re only required by some schools and they’re, the goal is to highlight. Fit, right? Like how you fit. You also have scholarship essays. So again, those are less common. And what I mean by that is they’re, they won’t be required by all of your schools, or even maybe the majority of your schools.

But it gives you an opportunity to, you know, talk about why you might be a good fit for a scholarship. It might be an opportunity for you to express financial need for a scholarship. So you also have, again, The essay, the scholarship essay, less common. Sometimes you have to submit those before you or excuse me, before you submit an application, there might be a scholarship deadline that’s earlier or the priority deadline, or you may actually submit a scholarship essay after you’ve already submitted your application.

So, not you. Every school requires them so much a supplement, but there are also essays that you might encounter in the admissions process. Let

me help change it to the next slide. Oh, there we go. Yeah, I can help you out with that. Awesome. So thinking about the significance of the essay. So this is a really important question. So essays really allow you to have a unique touch, right? It gives you the call. It’s one of the few opportunities where you get to talk about.

yourself directly and really communicate directly to the admissions office. So when you think about it, your test scores, that’s, you know, that’s like historical data, right? So once you take the test and you have a score, you can’t really change it. Your transcript, those grades are already, you know, you cannot go back in time and retake bio in ninth grade or 10th grade, right?

Your letters of recommendation are written by, you know, your counselors, your coaches or teachers. So the essay is really that opportunity where you get to talk directly to the admissions officers. It also, again, provides an opportunity to tell your story in your own words. Because there, again, you will have teachers who will talk about your performance in AP Chem, right?

But that will be the teacher talking about their expressions or their encounters with you, their experiences with you. It also adds qualitative information. So again, you have test scores, you have AP results, you have grades, right, which are quantitative data points, and the essay gives that really good qualitative information.

You also have an opportunity to provide additional context about your background, your identity, your passions, and circumstances. So again, a really great way to show a part of your identity that maybe your extracurriculars or Maybe your grades don’t often kind of communicate and maybe there’s these fun and unique and creative or interesting experiences that you really want to detail in your essay to let the admissions officers get a fuller picture of who you are, your background, and your identity.

So what factors make a great essay? So this is a really important question. We get it quite a bit here, CollegeAdvisor, and particularly this point of standing out. So I always tell students, you know, you want to worry less about what admissions officers want to read and write more about from your experience, your background.

So tell them the story you think they should know. So you really want to make sure you’re presenting information in a focused and thoughtful manner. So you do want to make sure that you look your essay reads cohesively and that it looks intentional. You want to use specific concrete examples to convey points that focuses on the present and near past.

And what we mean by concrete examples is we really want to, you know, Instead of, you know, broadly speaking about a situation, kind of tell a story. Tell us about something that happened, you know, be specific, name names, right? Like tell, give us, get into the, the nitty gritty. Because sometimes stories are so vague and they assume we know information that we don’t know, right?

You also want to focus again on examples of the present and near past. We often get students who ask, You know, I had something that happened to me when I was five years old. Can I write about it? Sure. However, when you’re applying to college, you are now applying as a 16, 17, or in some cases, 18 or 19 year old, right?

So you want to be able to talk about, you know, how are you reflecting? How are you thinking about yourself and the current moment or the recent past? This does not mean to exclude any experience that happened to you before high school. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying is you want to be able to talk about who you are now, right?

Because The colleges are going to be admitting you at this moment in your life. Not, you know, when you were six years old. You also want to tell admissions officers about who you are, your personal triumphs, your challenges, leadership opportunities, and experiences outside the classroom. As I mentioned before, admissions officers are are going to have a lot of data from you.

They’re going to have those grades. They’re going to have those test scores, right? And the grades are the most important piece of the application. The high school transcript, that record of achievement and performance. Over, you know, three to four years of time, it’s going to be critical when making admissions decisions.

However, that’s only going to give them a slice of who you are, your experiences. So you want to use this essay to talk about who you are And naturally you want to make sure you’re demonstrating good use of grammar You know, and not in some cases, it is a writing sample, right? For schools or universities that tend to be more open access, they are using the college essay to really discern whether or not a student has a strong writing proficiency because they also want a student to be able to do well.

It could also be used as a writing sample for placement. You know, if you have, if you are required to take some English course open access, universities might use the essay for that reason for more selective institutions, they just really want to make sure that you took the time, the effort to write the essay that you met the basic requirements, the word limbs and also again, that you are showing and presenting who you are at a very thoughtful, cohesive and clear way.

So also I’m having trouble seeing the full slide. I just see only a few of the bullet points, but I cannot zoom in or out of the screen for some reason. But I think in this part, you know, thinking about what makes for a great essay and how can students stand out. You really want to ensure that you are answering the questions, right?

So for the comment app, there is an opportunity for you all to. Choose your own topic. I chose my own topic when I wrote my college essays. However, you still want to make sure that there is a topic in your mind that you are responding to. Especially, especially, I cannot emphasize this enough, in the supplements.

Like, it’s really, really critical. That in the supplements that you are really answering the questions because you often have much, you know, shorter space, right? Supplements tend to be a 250 words. Some cases they could be 50 words. Some cases they could be one word, 10 words, a sentence, a song, lyrics. So you really want to make sure you’re answering the question.

A great college essay. Also, it effectively describes how the experience has led to personal growth or understanding of belongingness or in a way that demonstrates maturity character and open mindedness. So it’s just. It’s not enough just to write an essay of just an experience and just leave it at that.

It’s really important that you demonstrate that you have grown or there’s been some, a change, and you need to be able to kind of detail that, and, and, so that’s really important, right? So it doesn’t…

It you know, I found it my own, you know, astrophysicists organization. It doesn’t have to be, you know, that detailed, but you definitely want to make sure that you are showing some type of growth. Also, you want to ensure that your essay reflects your voice. The student voice is so critical, right? You really want to be able to signal that you took time to write the essay and that it was you and not, you know, To your mom, chat GPT, a friend, like it should really sound like a high school student wrote the essay.

And again, it should be polished. It should be free of major grammatical errors and typos, but we know when an essay sounds, you know, at a level of sophistication that it sounds like, you know, someone who’s getting their PhD wrote it. There is a difference. You also want to use specific concrete examples to convey your points.

Again, and as I mentioned earlier, you really want to kind of focus. On the present and near past and thinking about the types of stories you tell.

So what are some of the common mistakes that students should kind of consider avoiding, right? So this is a really important one. And I see this quite a bit. I actually just saw it in an essay that I read yesterday. That you want to avoid writing essays that focus squarely on other people. Now, there might be a prompt that says, talk about someone who inspired you, right?

And maybe your grandmother was the person who inspired you or your grandpa or a teacher and you write this essay detailing how wonderful your, you know, your grandmother or your grandpa, they were veterans and, you know, they, they, they built your family’s house and, you know, you’re so inspired because of their resilience and, you know, et cetera, the stories they tell.

However, the whole essay is about grandma and grandpa to the point that me reading it as an admissions officer want to admit grandma or grandpa. So you really want to make sure the essay still is talking about you and that you’re telling a story about others without centering them, right? You really need to make sure the essay is telling us about you.

So another common mistake is writing essays about overly common or controversial topics such as sports and politics. There is a caveat and an asterisk to this. Now, I know as someone who went to Georgetown, which is located in our nation’s capital, there were thousands upon thousands of students. Who had interest in politics, who wanted to go into politics, and I think there’s opportunities to definitely be appropriate.

You do not want to, you know, write essays completely disparaging, you know, certain, you know, political actors that are, you know, that are kind of imminently still kind of controversial. Only because you never know who’s reading it and you don’t want to offend the sensibilities of someone right and also sports You know, I I think this is I get this question a lot.

We have students who’ve dedicated four five six seven ten plus years And it’s so important to them and they want to write about hockey because hockey is how they make their friends. It is how they transform their lives, etc. So I see that all the time. However, there are some topics, you know, you know, getting injured in a sport and writing how you overcame the injury or getting cut from the team and having to train a condition to make the team.

or winning the game shot, the game winning basketball shot or missing the game winning basketball shot. We read thousands of essays with those top types of topics. So sometimes it can feel just a little repetitive. However, I mean, if they’re If you feel like this is the best way to showcase who you are, then you have the right to write the essay that you feel like is most appropriate.

But just know that admissions officers definitely encounter a lot of essays about sports. Missionary trips are often very common. That is when you go to another country and do service. Maybe you taught a child English in a different country in South America or something on those lines. We get a lot, we see a lot of those essays, you know, topics, frankly.

So just something to keep in mind. Also writing essays that read like they were written by a college professor. As someone who, again, is earning my PhD and writing a dissertation, I know what the prose at the collegiate level can be a little verbose and the words just are very long and sometimes a little stoic.

So you really want to just, again, write in your own voice. And that’s not to mean that, again, it’s not, You should be polished. This is a professional piece of writing. You are trying to gain admissions, right? Maybe to one of, you know, a top school in the country. So it should be professional. But just making sure that it’s coming from you and that you’re not trying to impress the admissions officer by, you know, overusing the thesaurus, which you see here as well.

Also in the personal statement, it is not appropriate to name a college or university by name. Again, that is the essay that you’re submitting to all of the schools or most of your schools, so it is not appropriate to do that. Also, you want to kind of avoid complex sentences that could be written in multiple similar smaller sentences.

I see this a lot. I’m also very wordy. And I see students have an entire paragraph that’s one sentence. One sentence that’s five lines. So you really want to think about, how can I break this up? Do I need to, you know, use a semicolon, period? Is this, do I need this additional sentence these sentences?

You know, just try to write in shorter sentences. You want to avoid passive voice whenever possible, right? So instead of talking about, You know, what you did, you kind of center, you know, something you sent through someone else. So you really just want to make sure that you are writing in an active voice.

So, so you run it really, you know, passive voices when it’s when you write so that the subject has, has the action done to it. And the object of the sentence comes first. So you just really want to like be thinking about that. It also makes your writing lengthier and longer. So you really want to think about writing an active voice is the way to take control of your writing.

And then also, you know, you really want to avoid using artificial tools such as ChatGPT to write your essays. I’ve already read a few essays that were clearly written, frankly, by AI or ChatGPT, and it was just very easy for me to see that, just based on how words and sentences were phrased. So I know some students may use it as a brainstorming tool.

to like get the juices flowing or helping them outline or do reverse outlines. But you really want this essay to come from you. I mean, again, you get few opportunities to talk directly to admissions officers. And I think it’s really important that that, that essay is written by you. So we, yeah, so that is one thing to think about and really something I avoid.

I encourage you to avoid when writing your college essays.

Okay, so we’re going to pause from the presentation for a little bit just so that we can get a sense of where you are in the college application process. Perhaps you haven’t started, or maybe you’re in the phase of where you’re researching your schools. Or you’re working on essays and that is why this topic is even more Pertinent for you because you are right in the midst of writing your essays Or you’re getting your application material together or you may be almost done Okay, so we have 45 percent of our audience are currently working on their essays, followed by that, we have 29 percent that are getting your application material together, 20 percent researching schools.

And then we have a few that haven’t started, and then we have 5 percent that are almost done. So congratulations to those who are almost done and definitely continuous good luck to those who are working on their essays and getting their application material together.

Fantastic. Great. So, yeah, this is, I mean, it is the season before you all came online and I were just talking about how we are working with students and how we expect things to get a lot busier very shortly as students really lean into these early action and early decision deadlines. So, and thinking about writing about yourself creatively.

You know, students often ask, you know, how can I talk about myself while still being creative, you know, still being concise? And I always tell students again, you want to use specific examples, right? So that really helps So instead of having big descriptors just really just instead of zooming out zoom in to describe the situation you want to limit flowery and abstract language that does not communicate substantive meaning.

I think sometimes We have additional fillers, words, and additional language that sometimes can be a bit distracting. I also think you can incorporate elements of culture, including language or expressions that reflect distinct cultural experiences. I always enjoy reading essays where I get to see a little nugget of people’s backgrounds and identities, right?

So, you can always talk about… Your culture, your language, or you know, things that you feel like kind of define who your, you know, your family is, who you are, where you’re from. So that’s often, you know, something to think about. You also want to try to define less well known terms or expressions in your essay, so your audience is clear.

And again, just thinking about one thing I feel like students often say to me is I grew up, you know, relatively privileged. I live in suburbia. You know, I’m around a lot of people who look like me. I don’t feel like I’m special. I don’t feel like I’m unique. And I, that breaks my heart because we all are special.

We’re all, we are all unique. And even if we think Transcribed Or we assume that our experience is just like John across the street and the person, you know, in Maryland and the person in Washington state. It’s actually not right. So we all have experiences that makes us who we are, even if it’s even if your essay is about living in suburbia, how every day you feel like, you know, you, you.

This, the life you have, you feel like you keep, you continue to do the same thing, everybody looks the same, you’re tired of like being in, you know, these cookie cutter homes, even if it’s a story, an essay about why you desire to break free from, you know, what you feel like is so normative, that, that’s beautiful too.

So I just want you to think about, we all have stories to tell about our backgrounds and our experiences. And even if you think it’s a mundane experience, even if it’s a story about. Your daily routine that is still something special and that is still a way to be creative and to write about your background and identity

So thinking about editing your essay, so there’s quite a few tips to edit your essays, you know One feature I like to use is the microsoft read aloud feature and essentially if you have microsoft word microsoft office You can plug your essay in there. There’s a little aid icon with like a little microphone and I use that a lot.

I click on it and it just reads my essay to me and it’s a great way to catch typos or sentences that may sound too long where you’re like that actually does not sound like what I thought it sounded like to the ear. So that’s a great tip. You also want to proofread and you can have friends proofread. I know some students use Grammarly.

I use grammarly to catch, you know, typos and things like that, or again, to make sure my sentences are not too long or too wordy or that grammarly can also help you if you use a word that there perhaps there might be a better word to use in the context and also proofreading really helps because you have an example such as this one where a student can say, I enjoy torturing animals, I have volunteered torturing animals at a local shelter since eighth grade and the experience has solidified my desire to become a veterinarian.

Okay. Now, I hope we can all agree that the student was not writing about their desire to torture for to torture animals And I mean if they were they may need to seek professional help But the purpose of this is to give an example of torturing is spelled correctly each time it’s used However, the student meant training, right?

and in training You know, response to their desire to be a veterinarian, et cetera, but they wrote torturing and it just didn’t catch it because they spend so much time, you know, reading the essay, your brain corrects word all the time. That’s why we often can’t catch our own typos or errors. So I also encourage students after finishing a draft, take, you know, 24 hours, even 36 hours.

You know, take a break before reviewing it again. That’s something I, I often have to do. Now, what that means is you cannot procrastinate, which I know a lot of us are guilty of. I feel like in college folks were procrastinating. High school, I know I procrastinated a bit. So you really need to give yourself enough time to take a break from your asset.

And then have a teacher, a counselor, or someone you trust review this statement. You know, they may catch things that you didn’t naturally catch or see things that you didn’t, you know, see before. So that’s something you definitely want to do. You really want to get another pair of eyes and read it with your own fresh eyes.

Just to make sure that, you know, you can catch some of those small typos or errors. That that can, you know, make a difference in how the essay is read.

So, what are some of the essays that have stood out to me? You know, I often say, you know, I’ve, again, I’ve heard thousands of essays. I’m, you know, reviewing essays now. I’m working here with CollegeAdvisor. You know, there’s so many different types. One is essays that reflect student ambition and growth.

I mean, I just love to read essays about, you know, what motivates students to be, you know, their origin story, so their why. You know, that’s always a really great, you know, I love enjoy reading those essays, you know, essays to highlight student tenacity. I mean, we talked about, you know, really demonstrating kind of resilience and growth and ambition and triumph and, you know, seeing students kind of talk about some of the things that they’ve had to encounter.

And I do want to point this out as someone who studies. You know trauma and college admissions essays from my own research that this does not mean that you need to trauma dump Or write trauma narratives where you’re spilling all of your you know Most personal intimate details I tell students that they you have the right to write the story you want to write But you do not owe anyone your trauma.

You do not owe anyone your pain So even talking about tenacity things you had to overcome or endure There’s ways to do that that does not also, you know, trauma dump, right? I also love essays that, you know, paint colorful photos of the human experience. And one, you know, essays that I feel that I often do that are essays for, like, students who have jobs, right?

So I worked with a student who wrote this really beautiful essay about working at Jimmy John’s and, like, the types of customers he encounters working through the drive thru. And just how those interactions help, you know, shape. Him and certain characters that he developed or certain characteristics and traits that he developed and the importance of that human connection.

I thought that was a really beautiful essay. So there’s so many, I mean, students write about so many diverse experiences, students who juggle, students who are in theaters, students who have jobs, students who volunteer, students who tutors, students who create their own bracelets. I mean, again, you just want to paint a picture about who you are to the admissions office or admissions officers rather.

So yeah, so as we kind of wind down before, you know, I start taking your questions, you know, some final tips to think about this is a really important one, and I often have to emphasize this with students every time I read their first draft, or first two drafts rather, that it’s important to show and not just tell.

So an example of that is, instead of saying, I learned a lot volunteering at the Cleveland Animal Shelter, you should try saying, While feeding the sick puppies with the other shelter volunteers, I learned the importance of teamwork and compassion, right? So the difference between the first sentence and the second sentence is you’re being more specific.

Instead of just talking about, you know, what, you know, instead of just saying, you know, telling. As you learn something you’re showing us what you learned and how you learned it through what means right very important You also again want to share lessons learned so detail how the experiences you write about inform your future And the type of student you’ll be at college or in college, right?

So You know, students will often talk about, you know, through, you know, while volunteering at the local animal shelter, you know, I learned that I really desire to, you know, be of service, you know, to animals in my community and, you know, and they might speak about what they want to do with that while in college.

Now, you don’t have to write an essay about your major for your personal statement. It does not have to be related to your major at all. So if you want to study computer science, you do not have to write a personal statement about computer science. You can write a personal statement about, you know, juggling, you know, or learning Spanish or whatever, but your personal statement does not have to be linked to your major.

Okay, so I know that’s a popular question and I forgot to mention that earlier. Again, you want to proofread. It’s critical. Again, get someone else to take a look at it before you press submit. You know, I’ve seen essays You know, again, where students have namedrop schools, and it’s the wrong school, you know, I’m at U of M at University of Michigan, and I know we just get essays that say Michigan State, you know, which very different institution, you know, our in state rivalry, and it’s like, that’s not, you don’t want to do that.

And then you want to tell your story, write about your own experiences and not someone else’s. And again, this is not to say you cannot write about when you met, so maybe, you know, you started. You’ve worked with an organization in your community that helped teach children financial literacy, and there was a child in the program that you really made a connection with, so you talk about that.

You can write about that connection. You just don’t want the whole story to be about that person and not about you, right? So you want to talk about what you learn. You want to reflect on your experiences talk about what, you know, maybe what you. You knew what you thought you knew coming in and how you changed or how you grew after encountering that, right?

So you really want to talk about that arc of growth. That’s really, really important. And again, as much as we love to hear about your grandma or your grandpa, we cannot, we’re not admitting them, we’re admitting you. So we really want to know about you. So it’s incredibly important that you tell your own story.

Okay, so now, thank you so much, Aya, for sharing this great information. Now we are going to move into our live question and answers. I will read the question out loud and I will answer it. Make sure that you are placing your questions in the Q& A tab. And also, if you’re interested in receiving a copy of today’s presentation, we also have a handout that is in the handout tab for you to easily download.

Okay, so let’s move into our first question. Would you encourage immersive writing techniques like using the five senses to weave in a story while answering the prompt, or is a direct response the best? Great question. I think immersive techniques are really great, especially for the personal statement.

It really helps us to kind of set the stage, set the tone and help us envision what’s happening. I think for more supplement essays there are some supplements that are longer, like University of Wisconsin Madison. There’s their supplement is 650 words, which is the same length of the Common App essay.

However, with supplements, you tend to, you have. you really want to answer the question. So supplements, they don’t have to be written in that same kind of narrative prose. When it comes to the personal statement, I think that, you know, the five senses is a really great strategy to really help center the kind of create the scene for the reader to kind of envision what’s happening in that moment.

You do want to be mindful of, you know, being too wordy. You still want to make sure you’re kind of the, so what is clear of like why you’re, you know, telling us these various things. But I think that’s a great strategy to really. Kind of set the stage and you can also really help the reader kind of kind of picture themselves in that particular moment.

So, yeah, I think that’s a great strategy. Great question. Okay. Next question is for the common at personal statement. Is it fine? If our essays respond to the chosen prompt, but doesn’t capture a majority of my history. Well, no essay is going to be able to capture the majority of anything about your life.

It’s literally 650 words and you’re answering a question at the end of the day. So that’s okay. I mean, one thing to think about is the person statement is just one of many parts of the application, right? So if you’re writing about, say again, you really love numbers. But your personal statement is answering a prompt that doesn’t really like connect to that per se.

But you have your extracurricular list, right? You list 10 activities. Those, you know, maybe five of those activities is actually about math and numbers. So you’re actually showing, you know, your personality in your Common App. Like what you dedicate your time to outside of the classroom can signal that.

So think of the personal statement as one of the many areas and avenues that signal who you are, right? So you have the statement. You also your activities list again, all the things that you contribute to. You may have internships. You may receive certain awards. You also have teachers writing letters of recommendation about you.

And in some cases, you might have an interview. Georgetown has alumni interview. So I say that to say There are so many opportunities to signal different parts of your identity. So I, I wouldn’t worry that the personal statement doesn’t capture a hundred percent who you are because it just, it’s not, that’s not what the personal statement is.

And no 650 word statement will be ever, you know, will ever have the ability to capture the person you are in its, in your entirety. Okay. Is it okay to write about activities or extracurriculars that I’ve already included in the actual application or is it better to only write about what hasn’t been mentioned previously?

No, students write about personal write about activities all the time in their personal statement. Some students use it as a strategy because in the common 150 characters, not words, 150 characters to talk about activity. So say you, you know, you, there’s this activity you’ve dedicated, you know, for all your high school time and beyond to, and 150 characters is just not enough to detail the impact you made or talk about who you are, so you use the personal statement strategically to be able to talk about that.

Students also do that in a supplement where they say there’s an activity, I had 12 activities and I could only write about 10 or include 10, so I’m going to use the supplement essay. That asked me about activity that I enjoy and use that to write an additional essay about an activity. I couldn’t talk about.

So I think it’s perfectly fine to write the personal statement about one of your 10 activities because you’re going to, I mean, 650 words versus 150 characters. I mean, that’s night and day, so that’s, that’s perfectly fine. Students do all the time and I think it could be a really good strategy.

Okay. How much time should I set aside for revising and editing period of essay writing? Well, I mean, we, I, first of all, you should have, I mean, at minimum, you have three drafts of this, the personal statement at minimum. Setting time aside, I mean, you want to take as much time as necessary to make sure that the essay is up to your standards.

That is proofread. So however long you need, I mean, I’m again, I’m working with students now who have completed finalized personal statement drafts and they’re working solely on supplements and have students who were on draft number six with the personal statement because it’s taking them a little longer to really kind of knock down the so what and what they’re trying to communicate to the reader.

So there is no hard and fast rule. I just know your first your first. essay is, is a first draft. And I don’t, in very rare cases, I can’t think of one student, you know, even the high achieving top students like I was, I still had three, four or five drafts of a personal statement. So you take as long as you, you need there.

There is no, in my opinion, hard and fast rule about. How long it takes. And yeah, IA, you kind of just, you did just answer this question, but I didn’t know if there’s anything you wanna add to it, but it, the question reads, how many rounds of edits should our essays go through? As many as necessary. Without you kind of losing the substance.

I, I will say this. There’s a such thing as too many cooks in the kitchen and. There gets to a stage where you have to decide, you know, do you want, and you can ask the people that you might ask to review your essay, these questions. You can say, Hey, I just want you to proofread. So I don’t want you to make substantive comments.

I’m not looking for changes in any texts. I just want you to proofread it and make sure it’s cohesive. That’s a different ask. Then saying hey, this is a draft of this essay. Can you read it? Can you can you suggest feedback? Can you suggest areas of improvement? So when you get to a point where you like I really feel connected to this essay I think it’s great and I just want someone to just proofread it to make sure there’s no typos and errors that can happen too.

So again, I think I think that there is just Again, minimum three drabs is typically, but some students takes, you know, a lot more, but there is no, you know, you just want to make sure that you feel comfortable and that after editing it, that it still reflects your voice. And that is not, you know, The editor’s voice or your mom’s voice or the teacher’s voice.

So you also don’t want to lose yourself because someone is over, there is a such thing as over editing. And then those essays start to feel really robotic. So again, there’s no like definitive answer to that question. You just want to make sure that it is, it is something you feel proud of and that you feel like it reflects you and that is free from, you know, major grammatical errors.

Okay. What is the best emotion to try to evoke from a reader in your writing? What resonates the most? That’s a really interesting question. I said, but I, I think I would challenge that approach. I want you to write the essay that that best explains or best describes who you are and not trying to prey on the emotions of the readers because People respond to things so differently.

So some cases people love humor. So some people love reading essays that are silly or humorous. Some others that just not resonate with them. Some people love essays that evoke sympathy or pity, frankly. And some people, they don’t want to read that. And some essays, you know, some people like to write essays that are more serious and telling us some people love that.

So I just prefer that. that you’re thinking. I want to reframe your thought process about that to worry less about what the, what you’re evoking from the admissions officers, but more so what, what you hope to convey about who you are. Okay. When should you start writing college app essays? I mean, primarily the summer before your senior year, I feel, I feel like that’s a great time to really start to dive in.

I know some schools, they’ll write a practice essay or a statement, maybe in their junior year, like inside class as like an English, you know assignment or for students who are part of maybe college access programs or nonprofits or community based organizations that do college prep, that they might write those essays their junior years or start even earlier.

But generally I feel like the summer between your junior and senior year is a great time to really start writing. I mean, the, the challenge is if you start writing, say you’re a sophomore, your writing is going to improve in those two years. You’re going to have different lived experiences, the way you.

make sense of your experiences will grow and develop as you mature. So, you know, you, you’re trying to kind of maximize all of that, that training you will have received. So your writing is at its strongest, if you will, when you’re writing the essay. So again, summer between your before your senior year.

And also, I mean, right now, if you are a senior, this is the time you should be writing these essays right now. If you are a junior, you have time, you know, so you have time, but if you’re a senior, this is the season, so you should be writing your essays right now. Do essays need a title?

And how do you know when to share stories of trauma or when to hold back? I mean, do you want to share a story of trauma? I mean, I would ask, why are you sharing a story of trauma? Like what, what about a particular story that happens to be a trauma narrative that you feel compelled to share? Like, what’s the motivation behind that?

Is it a story that you feel like is indicative to who you are? Or is it, is it transformational? Do you feel comfortable about sharing that? Are you, do you feel comfortable by about an admissions committee reading it or admissions officer reading it? So I would just kind of ask yourself a few more questions about why do I want to share this particular story?

Is it necessary for me to share this type of story? Is this something that would be comfortable with sharing or other people reading? So you just want to be mindful again. I often say this when I give talks that I think we don’t really think about who’s on the other side. We know there’s admissions officers or committee, but we don’t know who they are or their lives or their backgrounds.

And we just kind of press submit in the portals and it just kind of goes. You know, to whomever through various kind of processing systems, et cetera. So I just want the person kind of ask that question. And for those who are thinking about whether or not they want to disclose trauma and an essay to think about, like, you know, the cost of doing so.

And what I mean by cost is it could be if you feel like there’s an important story about your life. Again, I always encourage students to write stories that they want to write, you know, in their own words and on their own terms. But also thinking about is that is it necessary? Do I think that. This is a strategy I need to do to get in because I will tell you it’s not you do not have to write about trauma.

You do not have to disclose your trauma to be competitive or admissible. So I just want, I want again, ask yourself a few more questions about that, like for yourself, because I don’t think it’s a matter of should like, do they want to read it? It’s a matter of like, do you want to tell that story and why?

Okay, so I’m going to give Aya a pause. She’s been doing really great at And I’m going to share more about the work that we do within CollegeAdvisors. So for those in the room who aren’t already working with us, we know how overwhelming the admission process can be, especially for competitive applicants like yourselves.

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 the screen. During the consultation, a member of our team will review your current extracurricular lists, 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 team. Okay, so I’ll leave the QR code on the screen as we move forward with our questions. Let’s see. Next question reads… Okay. I know you said that we shouldn’t write about what we think admission officers want to hear, but what exactly would you want to hear if I were looking to insert some extra areas of intrigue into my essay?

Can you repeat the last part of that question? Yeah. So it reads, but what exactly would you want to hear if I was looking for some extra areas of intrigue into my essay? Well, I’ll say this. Remember that the personal statement is a part of the larger application, right? So we’re not reading essays out of context with the larger application.

So it is hard to say, you know, to a person I don’t know or whose application I’ve never seen. Like, I don’t know where they go to school. I don’t know, you know, their grades. I haven’t read their teacher letters or recommendation. Because the personal statement is complementing the application. So oftentimes, as I said earlier, students will use the personal statement to talk about aspects of their backgrounds and identity that they don’t feel like may be communicated by grades, test scores, or letters of recommendation.

So they feel like, you know, maybe they’re, you know, again, they love science, so all the courses are, you know, they do well in STEM courses, and, you know You know, they might be in science clubs or an et cetera, but they also their faith is very important to them and they want to talk about their faith and their personal statement because they feel like that’s a part of their identity that the other parts of the application don’t really highlight.

So they want to talk about that and why that’s important and the work that they do in their church or their local community. So that’s what I mean, you know, the essays is a complimentary. Component to the other parts of the application. So when I think about what I wanna read, I want to get to know you a little bit better, right?

I see that you have all, A’s I see you’ve done well on the S A T, I see you’re a leader, but what does that leadership mean to you? Why are you involved in these particular clubs? If you have a job and you maybe worked a job all four years in high school, why? You know, what have you learned, you know, working as a Starbucks barista?

So again, I wanted. Just to know a little bit more about you because we have words on the page. We have all these pieces of application, but I want to hear a little bit more about your background. You know the why your motivations. So that’s what I want to see when I read a personal statement. Okay. Have you noticed a difference or decline?

An essay quality and, and the essay quality. Since the pandemic, is there anything accounted for by the reader? And is there anything we should do in particular to get our kids a little more polished with their writing? That’s a great question. I’ll say this, I have not noticed a, a decline in the college personal essay with the students that I work with which tend to be.

Students who I would say have a little bit more means, frankly. So I can’t speak to that per se. However I think a way to help improve writing is to have students read more. I think people are, I think when you read more and read better writing, you become a better writer. And that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to read long form books or novels, but I often tell people You know, I look for, you know, like longer form news.

So whether it’s like the Atlantic or the New Yorker, where there are longer publications and by reading those things, I feel like my writing is improved, like improves, right? And as a doctoral student, I’m reading all the time, but so that helps to inform our writing. So I think reading more can help with writing, reading, reading longer form.

It’s a great way. And it’s just a muscle. The more you do it, the better you become. And I think even the growth in the admissions process, I’ll say this, you know, we start working with students. You know, some students were working with them in August for essays. And then by December, you also see the growth in their writing and how they think about the process and how they tell their stories too.

So. Even this process, because it’s iterative, like you’re going to keep writing, you’re going to keep editing, especially if you apply to schools with supplements, you’re going to keep doing it to the point it becomes a muscle, right? That you’ve already, that you’ve trained, you’re conditioning yourself, just like if you’re working out for the track team or for a half marathon or something along those lines.

So yeah, I really think writing more and reading more are, they, they seem very basic, but I think that’s a really great way to see improvement. Because I do think the over reliance on a I could may contribute in the long term. Some of the challenges that you’ve identified in your question. So I I’m interested to see in a few years.

What? How a I’m chat GBT and some of those other systems. How that might, you know, negatively impact student writing levels. Would you believe sorry, would you believe that for a personal statement that it’s better to talk about yourself in the first person or the third person? Or does it depend on your subject and what you’re talking about in your statement?

Generally, people write in first person. I mean, I think there’s a quirky way to write about yourself in third person. But again, it will be a, it’s a case by case situation. 90 percent of essays. 95, 97 percent of essays I read are in first person. There could be a case to be made based on the style and the type of the topic and how you’re, you know, the pros of the essay, but that will be something I will have to read to see if it makes sense.

Overwhelmingly, you know, people are writing in first person and I encourage students to write in first person.

Okay, let’s see.

How should we answer supplemental essays? Is it the same as a personal essay? No, they’re different. I mean, a supplement question for an example. If. If a school is asking you in the supplement, why do you want to go to Georgetown University? And I give you 150 words very different than a personal statement because you have to be specific, concise.

You have to demonstrate you’ve done some research. You have to be specific. You have to name the you know, name various resources that the school provides, how it aligns with your interests, your passions, your major choice, your academic interests. And you have to be a little bit, you know, you have to show and demonstrate you’ve done your homework.

The personal statement, you can talk about your background, your identity. You’re not answering a question about like, why you want to study in a particular major. You don’t have to kind of demonstrate that level of research. You’re talking about yourself. So I do think they’re different. Again, the limbs tend to vary greatly.

Personal statement, 650 words. There are some schools like University of Wisconsin Madison, again, which has a 650 word supplement, where you’re talking about why, why University of Wisconsin Madison, but in most cases, supplements are significantly shorter, again, 250 words, 200 words, 50 words, one sentence, you know, one word, you know, so they are very different, I think, for supplements.

Prioritize answering the question and getting to the point right. You want that substance to really kind of be present because if you have such limited retail, you don’t have enough time to talk about when I stepped on the campus and I saw the green and the green resin, you know, you really got to get to the point because you don’t have a lot of space.

Yes, really. That’s some really great insight that you provided. Is there such a thing? Oh, oh, yes. Is there such a thing as too much personality or too strong of a voice in an essay? And should you ask questions to the reader in the essay, or should you keep it in a story form? Should you, okay, I’ll start with the second question first.

Should you ask questions? I mean, students ask rhetorical questions. That’s just like a, you know, a style. That’s a technique that people use sometimes to bring the reader in, to grab attention. So, I’ve seen it done. You don’t want the entire essay to be asking rhetorical questions because it’s like, okay.

They can’t, they can’t answer back, you know, the admissions officer is not going to be able to respond, you know in most cases, there might be opportunities where they’re like, I love that essay. I’m going to write them an email, but that’s going to be very, very rare. So I said that to say, limit the questions.

I mean, again, if you started an essay of like, what is the meaning of life? You know, that’s a rhetorical question, right? So I’ve seen rhetorical questions that you can do that, but the whole essay should not be one big question. Question after question, you lose the narrative. Is there such thing as too strong of a student voice or personality?

I mean, students are quirky. I mean, I’ve seen all types of quirkiness. in essays and, you know, in very interesting ways. I mean, did I ever read an essay and I was like, this is too much personality. And I was like, deny, no, you know, it just, again, the essay is one of the many parts of the application that’s adding context to who you are.

Yeah, I, you just want to be mindful of like sarcasm and, you know, those, those types of things, because they may not translate. To the reader. You don’t know that person. You don’t know their personality. So, I mean, you just want to be mindful. And again, have other people read it. Have someone else read it and say, Hey, you know, Mr.

Johnson, Can you read this essay? What are your reactions? How does this make you feel? What is my voice? What do you think I’m trying to say? Have other people read it and give them, have them give their perspective. So, you know, you’re not going in blindly with no kind of impression of how people might receive it.

Next question is how would you respond to a why do you want to go to this college question? Would you state all of its traits that you’re planning to take advantage of? How do you make it sound less artificial? Yeah, well, first of all, again, doing your research and that can mean actually visiting the campus in person through a college campus tour or an admissions session.

Also, virtual tours are really great. So if you have opportunity or had opportunity to visit, you know, being able to incorporate what it felt like to be on that campus for that particular moment of time. Also, I mean. You don’t have, in most cases, the retail to list all those things, and you definitely shouldn’t, you know, list, like, number one, number two, number three, like, in a more literal list, but just kind of incorporate, because it’s not, you’re, as much as you’re telling them, you know, why you might be interested in them, you’re also telling them about why, you know, it’s a good fit for you, because one thing I tell students where they, because you want to show research, and that you’ve done some homework, however, it’s You want to be sure that you are not regurgitating the website back to them.

They know they have 150 study abroad programs. They know that, you know they have these particular clubs. You know, so the admissions officers know a lot of the facts because, you know, they work there. So you also don’t want to just be a list of facts because… They already know that they want to know about you.

Like, why do you want to major in Spanish and study abroad in the program in Barcelona? What about that program connects to you and your interest, right? So they’re trying to get to know you. They’re not trying to get to know the university, right? Because they work there. They know the university. So you really want to talk about people in place.

Like, what about the people and that could be the students, the faculty, the staff at those various centers on campus. And then the place, what types of, you know, you know, maybe again, you’re, you’re, you’re really connected to your faith. And that school has the largest campus ministry in the country, right?

And that’s really important to you, right? Or they have a rabbi on campus and that’s very important to you. Or they have interfaith dialogue and that’s important to you because your own relationship with your faith. So you really want to be able to talk about yourself, but also what they have, like what they offer and how it connects with you.

They also, I mean, I will say I see this a lot and it’s really unnecessary. You know, people say, Oh, there’s opportunities to study abroad. There’s very few universities in this country where you cannot study abroad. So instead of saying there’s so many opportunities to study abroad, I want to study abroad, talk about a specific program that they have in a particular country or particular professor that teaches it and why that program in particular, you know, instead of saying, I want to communicate Do internships you can do internship at every almost every school in the country, right?

So what particular internships are there certain internships that might be more specific to That region or that city or that area because of the type of industry so you just really want to talk about not just labeling off activities and programs and people, but make the connection to you. And speaking about, like, faith when writing about my faith, would it be considered controversial to center my essay around my relationship with God, instead the service or community that can be associated with the church?

Say that last part again. Instead instead. Okay, let me just read the whole question. When writing about my faith, would it be considered controversial to center my essay around my relationship with God? Instead, the service or community that can be associated with the church. I think I understand that question.

I think you can write it. You can write about your faith. I read beautiful essays all the time about students faith and our relationship with with God. I mean, I tend to see those more for students who are applying to like more religious affiliated institutions, but that’s not exclusive, I would say.

At all. Yeah. So the word, can it be controversial? Maybe, you know, I don’t want to rule it out. It depends on how it’s written and, and what, what exactly is being communicated per se. But I don’t think, and, and the, like, at, kind of just at the baseline, writing about faith, I think, sure, you could absolutely write about your faith and your connections to, to, you know, your faith in God, et cetera.

Okay, we’ll take one last question.

And let’s see.

Okay, so just kind of going on this last question. Is it okay to use quotes while telling your story? Sure. Absolutely. You just, you know, want to make sure if it’s going to be a dialogue that it’s clear who’s saying what and that it’s not an entire essay of dialogue because sometimes it gets a little difficult to follow.

Okay. Well, thank you, Aya. So that now concludes our webinar. And with that, I wanted to just share our upcoming webinars that we have for the month of September. You’ll be able to see them on your screen. Please sign up. All of our webinars are geared towards supporting you through the college application process.

And with that everyone, have a great night. That concludes our webinar. Good night. Good night. Good night.