Advice from an Admissions Officer: Crafting the College Essay
Former Admissions Officer Arianna shares her writing and editing tips, as well as insight on what admissions officers are really looking for in a college essay.
2021-07-28 Advice from an Admissions Officer: Crafting the College Essay
[00:00:00] Hi, everyone. Welcome to CollegeAdvisor’s webinar on Crafting the College Essay. To orient everyone with the webinar timing, we’ll start off with a presentation. Then answer your questions in a live Q and a on the sidebar. You can download our slides and you can start submitting your questions in the Q and a tab.
Now let’s meet our panelist. All right. Hello everyone. My name is Arianna Pagan. I have a master’s in educational research and I’m also a licensed social worker associate. I got my undergraduate degree from Emmanuel college in Boston, uh, with a double major in management in psychology. And my master’s is also for me, me.
I have worked in higher education going on five years now at Emmanuel college, Babson college and currently at Northeastern university. Um, so I’m really excited to be here with CollegeAdvisor. I am an admissions advisor [00:01:00] for CollegeAdvisor, so I’m very excited to give you guys some insight into crafting your college essay or your personal statement, um, and giving as much information and answering any questions that I can.
So with that, so what is the college application personal statement there? The personal statement is also known as the application essay, your college essay. Sometimes it’s called a statement of purpose. All of those terms mean the same thing. So the personal statement is a statement that’s written by the student applying to the college or university.
And essentially what it does is offer an opportunity for the student to give more insight into themselves. It’s supposed to provide a different perspective to your application than the other parts of the application, such as your transcript, your letters of recommendation. The college application is a really great way for students to highlight [00:02:00] not just a separate part of who they are from their application, but can also provide a narrative for the application as a whole and can really pull it together.
So we get insight in the admissions office, who you are
now, the purpose of the personal statement is twofold. Uh, to start college admissions has become very competitive over the last, you know, 50, 75 years. And so what had started happening is as a way to sort of sift through these applications and figure it out. You know how to build the incoming class, the college application or the personal statement was created, um, because it’s a great way to introduce yourself to the admissions committee.
I know myself and many other colleagues, we actually will start reading applications with the personal statement, because that can provide really great insight into the kind of [00:03:00] student we’re reading about. Is this student, you know, what’s important to them? What do they offer? What can they bring to the university?
Have they impacted their community in some way? Um, so it can create a really important narrative for your application. And the second part to that is it showcases your writing skills. So when we talk about grammar, when we talk about the flow of the personal statement, that’s also really important because on our end, we want to see that there are some sort of critical thinking skills happening and that ultimately this.
Knows how to write can write well, because at the college level you’ll be writing a lot of essays. So this a personal statement provides some insight into how well you can write.
I will tell you what makes a great personal statement. The core of a great personal statement is authenticity. We [00:04:00] can tell the difference between a student who is writing a personal statement, trying to create a narrative or talk to us in a way that they think is what we want to hear versus a student who has really taken some time to do some self reflection has reflected on their strengths, what they’re good at and has taken time to craft an essay that really speaks to who they are and the experiences that they’ve had.
Uh, and the second part to that would be that it’s well written, no grammatical errors. That from start to finish, we can follow the personal statement. We don’t want to have to get halfway through and then think, well, this doesn’t actually make sense. Um, and the reason it also needs to be well-written is because you have about five to eight minutes to really capture the admissions committees attention.
We read, you know, close to a hundred applications a day, depending on the size of the [00:05:00] institution. And so being able to grasp our attention is really important. And if that personal statement doesn’t flow, we may not get to the end of it. And we may just move on to the rest of the applicant. Um, and as I mentioned previously, it’s also a great way for you to share who you are outside of your transcript and resume.
Um, and this was really part of the initial reason why the personal statement was created for, uh, colleges is because everybody might have the same GPA. They might have similar resumes, but who are you outside of your academics? What do you bring to the table? Um, and the, the last piece that can really pull together a personal statement and take it from average to great is creativity.
And, you know, you don’t have to be, you know, uh, Edgar Allen Poe, and you don’t have to be like a poet. You don’t have to be a professional writer. That’s not necessarily what we’re talking about to give you an example. [00:06:00] The greatest personal statement I’ve read in my five years in higher education, came from a student who wrote about their 15 minute walk to see.
It was ordinary. We’ve all done it, but it was crafted so well that you followed it. You were intrigued by it. You want it to keep reading. And they described what was happening on the walk as if, you know, just what was going on in their mind. And that was just something that was really creative. And five years later still stands out to me.
So those are some things that really make for a great personal statement.
So when we talk about mistakes, students can make in their personal statements, not checking for grammar or spelling mistakes. Also, we pick up on that and the reason it’s at the top of the list is because it’s really one of those minor things that you should take care of. Um, so it [00:07:00] almost shows like a lack of care in presenting yourself to the admissions committee.
If that makes sense, you know, we want to see. That it’s crisp, it’s clean and having those grammatical errors there can kind of show us, okay. Clearly they didn’t take the time in the editing process to look through this. Um, another one would be writing about tragedies. You know, I think something that’s very common or a common, you know, fear or anxiety that students have in preparing to write their personal statement is they think, well, nothing great has happened in my life.
You know, I’m 17, 18 years old, nothing, you know, crazy has happened to me. And so the, they go immediately, um, to, um, the tragedy side, you know, well, my parents divorce affected me in this way. My grandma had cancer and you know, it really just upset me. You know, all of those things are tragedies, but [00:08:00] we’ve read them so many times that.
Really nothing unique to it. And mental illness is another one of those that I’ll get to in a minute. Um, another mistake is plagiarism. Believe it or not, we can tell whether or not, um, an essay has been plagiarized and, you know, some, especially at the larger universities, they will go through a software to scan for that.
Um, and that’s why authenticity is really important. Um, I have had guidance counselors call me, you know, after reading a few applications and they call me and they say, Hey, you know, I just found out so-and-so’s application to your university. Um, their essay was plagiarized and you just want to let you know, and that can immediately disqualify you from, um, admission.
So, you know, again, just be authentic, that’s going to be the most important. Um, and the another mistake is that sometimes students don’t highlight what they bring to the college community. So to put this into context, um, you know, I remember reading an essay about a [00:09:00] student who. Had been a part of model UN all four years in high school.
And for them, it was really a part of their identity. It was something that, you know, help them with their public speaking. It helped them with their analytical skills. You know, they were able to develop their social skills as well. And they really tied that not to joining the model UN club at the university, but they more so tied that to taking the skills that they had learned there and applying those skills to continue to build a community at the college, you know, they had wanted to expand their interests and they felt that this club had given them the skills in that at this university, they would be able to apply them in XYZ manner.
And that’s where tying in your strengths to the college community can be really important. Um, another mistake is trying to be funny. It sounds counterintuitive, but you don’t know who’s reading your application most of the time. Um, and so sometimes your sense of humor may not come across the way you mean it to.
[00:10:00] For an admissions committee, you know, it might come across as sarcastic. Um, it might come across as you know, crude. So try, please, don’t try to be funny in your personal statements because nine out of 10 times it doesn’t come through the way you think it does.
So what is a supplemental essay? Um, it is different from the personal statement. So the personal statement, you know, is this personal narrative about you. It showcases who you are outside of your transcript, your resume, the supplemental essays are more seen at larger universities. Um, and really what they are is it’s an additional essay where the admissions committee is looking to see why you would be a good fit for this.
So, uh, you know, oftentimes they’ll question you on your critical thinking skills oftentimes, um, in that supplemental essay, they’re looking for more specific [00:11:00] information, not just about you, but why they should make you ultimately, um, and those questions for supplemental essays change every year, um, at the university level.
And I think that’s something that CollegeAdvisor does really well is, you know, we’ll create candidate profiles with our students and, you know, use those personal statements and those candidate profiles that we’ve created to then help students write those supplemental essays, which after writing your personal statement, you might think, oh my gosh, I got to keep going.
Like, there’s more of these that I have to write. Um, and so I, you know, here at CollegeAdvisor, something that we do really well is helping students, not just answer those questions, but also make sure that your supplemental essay also highlights why. You’re not just a qualified candidate, but why you’re an exceptional candidate.
And that’s really where the supplemental essays can be really important. And sometimes depending on the university can be more important [00:12:00] than your personal statement.
So, you know, what’s the purpose of the supplemental essay? How long should it be? The length really depends on the university. On average, though, there are about 500 words. Um, and really what they’re looking to test your critical thinking skills. So for example, um, one of the questions Harvard had a few years ago was where is your, where is your place of creativity?
Like if you had to describe your ideal place of creativity, where would it be and why? And so, you know, naturally a straightforward answer would be, well, you know, when I’m on the basketball court, that’s when I feel the most. But that’s not what they’re looking for. What they’re looking for is for you to convey in a creative way, how being on the basketball court, you know, contributes to your creativity.
Like they want you to walk through the [00:13:00] process of that. And that’s just an example. Um, and oftentimes these essays are an opportunity for the admissions committee to further down their selection. Like I said, uh, college admissions, especially within the past five years has gotten even more competitive.
Um, and a lot more universities are starting to require these supplemental essays to further narrow their selection and make sure that the students they’re admitting are good fits for the school. And that’s where being an exceptional candidate is, is better. It’s not just about being a qualified candidate and answering the supplemental essay questions.
It’s really about highlighting how you fit into this college community and what you bring to the.
okay. We’re going to do a quick poll and we would love to know what grade you will all be entering so we can tailor the presentation according.[00:14:00]
Okay. Makes sense. It looks like we have a lot of people who will be entering 12th grade. You’re in the right place. It’s a good time to be thinking about this.
okay. So the answers are starting to, even out. It looks like we have two people in ninth grade, seven people who will be entering 10th grade 22 people who will be entering 11th grade 69. People who will be entering their senior year and one person who will be other. So I’m going to close the.
Um, and honestly, I think no matter where, what grade you’re entering in the fall, there’s something for everybody to take away from this presentation. Um, so ideally the best time to start working on your application [00:15:00] essay is the summer going into senior year. So for those of you who, you know, answered that you’re entering 12th grade in the fall, this is peak time to start writing, um, and drafting your essay.
But the brainstorming process can start earlier. So for those of you who are in ninth and 10th grade, really what you want to be doing is focusing on making sure that you’re getting a strong GPA. Um, and also you want to make sure that you’re starting to involve yourself in activities that highlight your strengths and maybe, you know, can strengthen your weaknesses.
If that makes sense. Um, but so, you know, going into your senior year, like I said, is optimal to start drafting and writing it and ideally it should be finished by September. Um, but the brainstorming process can always start earlier than that.
So if you’re not sure where to start, if you’re, you know, one of those students who [00:16:00] says, well, you know, I haven’t had anything amazing happen to me in my life. You know, I, you know, haven’t really been anywhere. Haven’t done anything that’s most likely not true. Um, and the reason I say that is because you really, you got to break it down to your day to day.
You know, the, like I said, the best essay I read wasn’t about somebody’s summer excursion in Europe. It was about a 15 minute walk to CVS. So it’s not what you’re, what you’ve done. It’s how you convey that. Um, so in my personal opinion with the students I’ve worked with journaling is a really great way to get ideas out or.
Um, if you’re not somebody who likes to write, maybe you just like to report. And the reason I say that is because if you know, the days past, they come and go and having that journal about what happened during your day may be really helpful. Like you might be entering, um, you know, your junior year or senior year.
And going back through those journals, you might be able to recall, oh my gosh, like I [00:17:00] totally forgot that on this day, like, you know, I saw a deer across the road and then I saw that same deer later and you know, all these coincidence coincidence, it started happening. Like you never know, just having a collection of things that have happened or just interesting ideas that you have, if something pops into your mind that you’re wondering about, or that you think is kind of cool to just write it down, because it’s always good to have something to refer to.
Um, later on, um, I would also say research the colleges and universities that you were interested in. Um, yeah. John Hopkins, for example, on their website actually has a sample list of essays from previous year. So you can actually see what that school in particular has highlighted as some of their best essays.
Um, even if you’re not interested in applying to John Hopkins, I still recommend looking at it just to get a general idea of what college essays look like. Um, [00:18:00] and you know, they have some good ones, but research the colleges and universities you’re interested in because the more you research a college, the more you research the university, you know, especially if they have supplemental essays, having a good understanding of what that college is about, what they offer, why you like it, the more research you have behind you, the easier it’s going to be to answer not just your personal statement, but those supplemental essays.
Um, and I would also recommend talk with your parents, your friends, You know, even a CollegeAdvisor, your guidance counselor, talk to them and say, you know, Hey, you’ve known me for so long. What do you think I’m good at? You know, where have you seen me shine the most? Um, if you’re like really not sure because your friends and family might have some really good insight and say, actually, you know, you’re always there when people need you.
Like, for example, when, um, you know, XYZ happened, um, sometimes, you know, if you can’t find something to write about writing about your [00:19:00] strengths and how you’ve grown over the past four years in high school, um, or an experience that helped you grow up can also make a really great essay. Again, it’s not what’s happened to you.
It’s how you convey something to an admissions.
Common mistakes again, grammatical errors. It’s just one of those really minor things that shouldn’t be there. Um, and it really, again, just highlights a sense of carelessness to the essay. So you don’t want those there. Um, and in the supplemental essays, what I’ve seen some students do is just repeat what’s in their personal statement.
And that’s understandable. The personal statement takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of effort that to then write another one is kind of like, oh my gosh, like I’m burnt out. I’m tired. I don’t have anything left in me, Ariana. Like, how am I supposed to write another 500 words? We totally understand that, but you don’t want to repeat what’s in your personal statement [00:20:00] because that’s the quickest way to just have your application dismissed, especially at a university that is very competitive to get into another common mistake is not highlighting why you want to be at that university.
So again, supplemental essays. For you to highlight what you bring to the college community. And if it’s not tied into that essay, then it also misses the mark to a certain extent. Um, another common mistake. And we’ve seen this more often because of COVID. So I do want to mention, um, and this relates back to mental illness previously, when students write about mental illness, it’s not that it’s tired and we don’t want to read about it, but if we, if it’s going to be the topic of your essay, you need to make it constructive.
It needs to be written in a way. For example, um, I had a student who had written about, um, her battle with depression. And so instead of just writing about how she found out she was depressed, she wrote about how she approached her, [00:21:00] uh, guidance counselor and asked. A support group for students who were depressed.
And that support group turned out to be so large, that she managed to, um, get funds from the district to have a social worker at the school part-time so students could get additional support through the day. So you see how it’s connected to not just the student, but she took that and she applied that to her community and helped her community and contributed.
Um, so that’s one way to do it, but don’t use the supplemental essay as an opportunity to talk about, you know, oh, well, you know, my parents lost their job and I had to start working. And so like, I’ve had to pay all my own bills and my family bills. That’s not what it’s about. Usually there’s an additional section in the college application for extra annuating circumstances.
Um, so just make sure you’re not doing that. And you leave any extraneous circumstances to that separate section and you’re answering the question in the supplemental.[00:22:00]
So the question then becomes, how do you present your best self in your essay? How do I, how do you show your personality? And one of the best ways to do that is to be authentic. Like even if you don’t know who you are right now, that’s fine. Most 17, 18 year olds don’t, but highlight your strengths, highlight what’s important to you highlight, you know, what’s had a positive impact in your life or what’s had a negative impact.
And how did you turn that into a positive it’s really important to connect. Um, and that’s where researching colleges and universities can be helpful because you have this research. For example, you might have a university that is very heavy on community service, um, where close to a hundred percent of the student body does at least one community service.
Um, and so that’s a really great opportunity to say, well, I did this community service, and I know at [00:23:00] this institution, they focus on this. And I think my experience in X, Y, Z, you know, nonprofit could be helpful in expanding in this area of community service. So that’s, that’s where the critical thinking skills come in, like do your research, because that will show when you’ve done your research and when you’re authentic and you’re speaking about yourself and you’re not just trying to present what you think we want to hear.
It honestly removes half of the roadblocks for you. And it’s a lot easier to just put it on paper. Um, and don’t be afraid to be creative. Don’t be afraid to try a different style of writing. Don’t be afraid to try and, you know, make it, uh, make it something outside of what you normally write. So for, you know, some students will, we’ll hear them say, I’m just not good at writing.
Like I’m better at math and science. I’m just not good at. That’s an opportunity if you’re good at math and science, write about something related to math and science and just make it creative, because [00:24:00] again, it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s how you, um, express that. So don’t be afraid to try something new and a creative way of doing it in your essay.
Um, and just get it on paper. Like if you have something on paper, if you’ve journaled something over the past year and a half, that’s a really great opportunity and a really great jumping off point for you, um, to figure out how to showcase your personality in this essay and in your personal statement as well.
So again, the last piece of advice I would give to those of you who are, you know, prepping for your college essay or already in the middle of writing it, keep a journal or a blog. Um, like I’ve, I’ve mentioned previously. It’s really great to have that to reference back to if you hit a point where you.
Nothing’s happened to me. You’d be surprised what you might’ve logged their journal, um, be authentic in your writing and showcasing who you are. Don’t again, [00:25:00] please don’t write what you think we want to hear. We can tell. And the most interesting essays are always the ones that are written authentically by the student’s point of view.
Um, and just take it one day at a time, uh, especially for those of you who are entering into your senior year, this fall, all anybody is going to ask you is where are you applying to college? You know, what do you want to major in? What do you want to do with your life? You know, and, oh, my friend’s son is going to this university or so-and-so majored in this.
Just focus on you, focus on one day at a time and what’s in front of you right now. And you’ll be all right. Just block out the additional noise and just take it one day at a time to sort of process that stress and really focus on.
Okay. So we have one more poll.
Let’s see, [00:26:00] make sense. A lot of people are working on their essays. You’re in the right place.
A lot of people researching schools. That’s great.
A few who haven’t started that’s totally. Okay.
Okay. It looks like the numbers are evening out. So we have 17 people who haven’t started 56, who are researching schools, 41 who are working on their essay. 19 who are getting their application materials together. And one very cool person who is almost done good for you person.
Okay. Uh, now we are moving on to the question and answer portion of the evening. We [00:27:00] hope you found the information and the presentation helpful. And remember that you can download the slides from the link in the handouts tab, moving on to the live Q and a I’ll read through questions you submitted in the Q and a tab, paste them in the public chat.
So you can see and then read them out loud. Before our panelists gives you an answer as a heads up, if your Q and a tab, isn’t letting you submit questions that will check you. Join the webinar through the custom link in your email and not from the webinar landing page. Okay. Our first question is a good one that I’ve seen already.
There’s a few variations on that. How can you present yourself authentically and not talk about any tragedy in your life, especially if that tragedy shaped you. Uh, again, it boils down to if you can make that tragedy into a positive, um, and not to, not to discredit, you know, especially this past year, a lot of students have experienced, uh, [00:28:00] tragedies from COVID and we understand that we do, but we’ve, we’ve read about almost every tragedy.
And so, you know, if it shaped you, that’s great, but how did it shape you? You may want to focus more on how it shaped you than the actual tragedy itself. So, you know, from that tragedy, that might be your jumping off point in the essay where you’re not writing. Half of it, about the tragedy and then the other half about how it shaped you, your writing and starting with what the tragedy was like one or two sentences, and then how that shaped you.
So that’s really the jumping off point. Um, but you also want to remember that in the personal statement, especially if the university you’re applying to doesn’t have supplemental essays needing to be able to tie into that essay, how you are going to contribute as a member of that community, to that college.
Um, so, you know, if [00:29:00] that’s your authentic self, then write about it, but just make sure that you’re framing it in a positive light where we can see, and it comes across more as wow. This student has grown a lot and they’ve taken this tragedy and used it to better themselves in XYZ manner than just writing about the tragedy itself.
If that makes sense. Okay. Our next question is I’m stressed that I won’t be able to finish my essays in time. I’m not applying to Ivy leagues, but I still feel anxious that I don’t have enough time to finish my essays and that they won’t be perfect enough. Any advice, uh, prioritize, you know, um, it’s, it’s really about priorities and, you know, I think it, it really benefits to take a moment of reflection and ask yourself why you’re so anxious.
Are you anxious because everybody else in your life or all of your other friends have finished their essays. And so you feel behind and now you feel anxious. Are your parents constantly asking you about it? And that’s [00:30:00] why you feel anxious? Like where is that anxiousness coming from? Because if it’s from outside sources, then it doesn’t necessarily matter that much.
You know? But if you are, if it’s coming from a perspective of like perfectionism, which is what it does sound like it’s coming from, um, there is no such thing as the perfect college. Uh, you, you, you really want to just make sure that you’re prioritizing that. Um, and, and that’s really what it boils down to.
And so maybe instead of working on finishing the whole essay, you break that up into chunks and you say, okay, so tomorrow, um, I’m going to work on like one paragraph and then the next day you say, all right, I’m going to review that paragraph. And then in reviewing it, I’m going to see if I can write a few more sentences because sometimes looking at the whole thing, you know, if you’ve got the personal statement and the supplemental essays looking at that together might be a little bit anxiety inducing, but if you can break that up and prioritize them accordingly, I think some of that anxiety and some of that perfectionism [00:31:00] that’s coming through is going to go away.
And it’s also going to help you be more productive in the longterm. I think this is something that not a lot of people in high school realized, but a very true mantra is that perfect is the opposite of good.
Okay, our next, so our next question is a three parter. Uh, so it is, how about how many supplemental essays there in the application? Can you write in second person or is it better if we write in first and do we have to write about a specific moment in our life? Or can we talk about a certain characteristic about ourselves and expand on that?
Okay. So the number of supplemental essays is going to depend on the university. Um, some colleges don’t even require them, honestly. So, uh, if you’re, you know, that’s where the research comes into play is you want to look and see, you know, oh, I’m really interested in X college, but they have three supplemental [00:32:00] essays.
Is it really worth it? Is that the route you want to take? Um, some universities don’t have any and all you need is the personal statement. So, um, do your research on that and then in terms of writing. It really doesn’t matter if it’s coming from the first person narrative, second person narrative, whichever way it comes most naturally for you follow that route because that’s going to be what comes across as most authentic when we’re reading it.
Um, so if you’re more comfortable writing in the second person, go with that. Um, and then what was the last part asking, uh, do we have to write about a specific moment or can we talk about a certain characteristic and expand on that either is fine. Um, again, it’s not so much what you’re writing about as much as it is, how you’re portraying it.
So, you know, if you feel that, you know, writing about a certain characteristic of yourself is going to come across as the most authentic write about that, but don’t [00:33:00] just write about what the characteristic is like. For example, you don’t want to write about. Really generous because of these instances, what you want to do is you want to create this narrative.
You want to tell a story. Um, so whether it’s a characteristic or an event that’s happened to you, it’s about creating a narrative. So you want to look at which of those is going to be easiest for you to write or easiest. Isn’t the right word, which of those is going to be, which one of those is going to flow best for you when you’re putting it on paper?
Our next question is how are we really supposed to start? Um, I would say if you’re at a point where again, you’re like I had nothing’s happened to me. Like, I don’t know what’s going on. Like, I just feel kind of ordinary. Just write down some random things. Like I’ve read some really good essays about a student’s favorite TV show.
Um, I think it was, it was new girl or it was the office. It was one of those two. Their essay was [00:34:00] about the. But it was just written in such a creative way and written in a way that was actually really entertaining to read that at the end of the day, nobody was like, wow. You know, she wrote an essay about a TV show.
It was like, wow, I need to check out this teenage girl now because of how they wrote about it. So, um, yeah, I would say, just write down anything that comes to mind, like anything you’re interested in, like even if, you know, there’s something that you’re interested in later on, like if there’s a TV show, you watch, you know, if you have a hobby, like just write that down, it’s, you know, go off of that point.
Um, and you know, this is honestly where CollegeAdvisor comes in really handy because we break down this process with you, you know, um, we’ll create your candidate profile, we’ll send you questions that will, uh, that, that kind of frame, you know, you know, where you’ve been, who you are and where you’re going.
Let’s put it simply. [00:35:00] Um, and we use that as a jumping off point for your essay. Um, so, you know, if you’re in, you know, 10th, 11th, even entering 12th grade, just keep that in mind, like CollegeAdvisor is, is really good at helping you break that down further. Absolutely. Okay. Our next question is if you choose not to complete an optional essay, how would that affect your application?
Uh, we don’t take it. I mean, if we’re being honest, like with optional essays, it’s just one less essay that we have to read. Um, and not a lot of admissions officers will tell you that, but, um, if you’re not going to write, when it comes to optional essays, they end up being a good option for students who may not have the strongest trans.
Um, so for students who may be, you know, borderline in terms of admissions requirements, those supplemental essays are a really great opportunity for them to showcase themselves even more. Um, or if students are looking for additional scholarships, sometimes those supplemental [00:36:00] essays can be helpful. Um, but if you don’t feel it, if you’re not feeling writing an optional supplemental essay, don’t don’t force it.
Okay. Our next question is some people write about, uh, the law about letters or pizza, and they get into an Ivy league, but I’m not sure that they incorporated why they wanted to get into that school. How does that work out? And also are we allowed to use I, and we, um, you are allowed to use iron. We, um, and typically, you know, when it comes to the IVs, the IVs do have a supplemental essays most of the time.
So, you know, really the supplemental essay portion is where they’re highlighting. Why they would be a good fit for the school and not necessarily in the personal statement. Um, the personal statement is really just a way for you to showcase who you are outside of your transcript. Um, so in the IVs, it’s really the supplemental essays [00:37:00] where the aspect of why I would be a good fit, uh, fits in.
Also, it’s not really a part of the personal statement because everybody wants to go to an Ivy league, like ideally. So we, it’s kind of known that like everybody wants to go, so it’s not really needed, um, to put it in your personal statement, if that makes sense.
Um, this sort of connects to what you just said. So for the UC system, they do one application for all the universities, any suggestions on the best way to tailor the essay in this situation, if you’re applying to a couple of universities and I’ve seen quite a few questions about the difference between.
I think some people, uh, are under the assumption that the main essay that sort of the college essay, the personal statement is where you should say, why you want to go to a school and the person that applies when a school doesn’t [00:38:00] have supplemental essays. So if you’re applying to a school that has supplemental essays, again, the personal statement is not necessarily where you would highlight.
This is why I want to go to the school that you would do that through the supplemental essay. So if you’re applying to a school where all they require is a personal statement, you just want to showcase your most authentic self and create a strong narrative, because that is going to be very important for the person reading that if that’s the only essay and the only opportunity you get to showcase yourself in the admissions office.
And oftentimes it’s even better to schedule. To schedule an interview with a university that doesn’t have supplemental essays, um, because that’s another opportunity for you to answer why you want to go to that university in particular. Our next question is, can you talk about the walk to [00:39:00] CVS essay Mar and elaborate what was great about it?
Sure. So it was, it was one of those essays that start, she started from a physical perspective. So she started the essay by talking about, she walked outside, she locked the door, like she did hundreds of times, um, and how she was kind of an autopilot mode when she was leaving the house. And as she started her walk, because she was an autopilot mode, the perspective then switched from like us as the reader, seeing what was around her to then going to her thoughts.
So as she’s walking to CVS, she’s thinking about the list of things that she needs, but she’s writing about that in a way that’s almost entrancing that, you know, it’s almost romanticizing what it is that she needs to get at CVS. And then, you know, on the walk, suddenly you shift out of her mental [00:40:00] perspective and you’re back in the physical where she’s, you know, describing a homeless man who was there every Tuesday and Thursday asking for, you know, spare change and then it switches back into her mind.
So the essay itself provided different perspectives that kept you entertained, that kept you wanting to keep reading. Um, now if you’re not somebody that like that comes naturally to you, don’t want to force that sort of perspective. Like you want to write in a way that communicates what you feel is important.
Um, so in her essay, you know, Towards the end of it. We, what, what the coolest part was that, you know, on her walk back she’s, you know, we’re back in her mind and she got what she needed. Um, and she had this coupon that she thought she was going to use. Um, but she decided to save it for another trip, but again, romanticizing all of that thought process.
And then at the end, [00:41:00] we realized that she’s back in her home and she’s sitting on the couch, eating the bag of M and M’s that she bought. So it was just like a very cool way to describe something that is so ordinary and that we’ve all done. Um, and again, so it, it wasn’t the topic itself wasn’t extreme.
It wasn’t like this amazing experience. It was very ordinary, but the way she described it, her writing style really wasn’t enticing and romanticizing in a way that it flowed. So naturally. That by the time we get to the perspective of her sitting on the couch, eating the M and M’s you almost feel like you were in that essay, you feel like you were on that walk to CVS with her.
That’s so cool. Um, okay. Our next question is what resources can we use to find out what the supplemental essay prompts are for each college? So they change [00:42:00] every year. Um, most of the time they’re on the college websites. So you can research the college, um, the supplemental essays. Usually if we’re talking about the common app, they don’t come out until, um, August.
So for this year, the supplemental essays for students applying to colleges this year will come out, uh, in August. But oftentimes you can research the school and see what the previous prompts have been, um, for a school or unit.
Our next question is what are the best resources for getting feedback on my essay? Um, number one, I would say CollegeAdvisor, the we’re we are it’s, it’s honestly amazing in the time that I’ve been here to see how we’ve been able to help students, parents form their essays, um, and create their narratives.
Um, outside of that, I would definitely say [00:43:00] get different perspectives. So the best feedback is going to come from a variety of people. And I say that because you don’t know who’s going to end up reading your application. So having different perspectives is really important because you want to see if you know, your best friend is reading it and your guidance counselor is reading it and you know, your brother’s reading it and your parents are reading it.
Are they all getting that same narrative or are they each getting something different? Because if they’re getting the same narrative and it’s possible. That’s a good sign that you, you like really created a solid essay. If everybody reads it and everybody gets what you were trying to convey, that’s great.
But if you get it back and everybody had a different perspective, that’s a really good sign that, okay. I need to tighten this up a little bit more and I need to clean up this narrative so that it comes across the same to whoever reads it. So get a variety of perspectives. Have everybody read it and have everybody check it for grammatical [00:44:00] errors.
Like you can never have too many eyes reading it.
Okay. So we’re going to take a quick break and I want to let you know what you can do. If you want to get help from your application. From one of our team of over 155 admissions officers and advisors, you can sign up for a free consultation with us by going to CollegeAdvisor.com and clicking the green chat button in the bottom, right of this.
From there just right in consultation and a live team member will get back to you to help coordinate your free consultation with us. Okay. Back to the Q and a, um, our next question is, um, how do I write about my accomplishments without, uh, coming off guilty or without feeling guilty or looking conceded and what is the formulaic balance between academic [00:45:00] and personal accomplishments?
So I would say when it comes to writing about accomplishments, again, it’s not what you’re writing about. It’s how you convey it. So, you know, if you’re a national merit scholar and you know, you got, um, you know, you’ve been in national honor society, like you’re president of national honor society. You’ve been taking honors classes since freshman year.
Like, it’s not so much writing about all of those things, because we’re going to see that in your transcript, most likely that’s something your guidance counselor, a letter of recommendation is going to highlight. So if you’re going to write about that, you have to write about it in a way that we’re seeing not just what you’ve accomplished, how has that shaped you?
Why, and really why does it matter? You know, because if we can see it on the transcript and everywhere else, why are you writing about it in the essay? What is it about this experience that is so important? You felt the need to write about [00:46:00] it again. So, um, it, it’s important to, you know, you could write up, you could include like 20 different accomplishments.
That’s fine, but does it flow and does it speak to who you are or are you just listing things that you’ve accomplished? Because you want to say, Hey, because you’re proud of them. Of course. And we recognize that we recognize that as a student, you’ve put in a lot of work over these past, you know, three, four years.
You’ve, you know, sacrificed, maybe social events, you know, maybe your dating life to really focus on your academics and that’s great, but it has to, it has to be a narrative that impacts who you are, not just what you’ve done. Okay. Our next question is, and I’ve seen a few like this. I know the common app has specific questions.
So how much do we need to worry about answering the question? Like if your narrative feels dragged down, because you’re trying to answer the question. What should you do? Would you rather read an engaging story that might not answer a [00:47:00] question or an essay that answers the question solidly, but isn’t as engaging, um, uh, the, the prompt, you know, the, the question itself or the prompts for the essay are really just meant to be like a jumping off point.
So, and this answer is also going to vary from admission advisors. Like I have friends who. They want to, they want you to answer the question and they want to see that you can answer the question more than having an engaging essay, but especially when you get into more competitive colleges, we would rather see that you’re creatively creating a narrative and a story than just answering the question.
Um, I Deely like the best case scenario is you want to combine the, both, like you want to answer the question in a creative way. So if you feel like your essay is being bogged down by the question, like, if you feel like you are not coming through, because you’re trying so [00:48:00] hard to answer the question, I would get some feedback from different people.
I would maybe take a step back and ask other people to read it and say, what are you getting from this? You know, what, what perspective do you get, um, and ask other people in reading it. Do you feel like this kind of highlights who I am and do you. Does it highlight who I am. Do you feel like you’re getting a sense of what I’m about and if the answer is no, then that’s a good opportunity to say, okay, I need to take a step back and maybe you end up choosing a different question, maybe, you know, in between sentences, you’re adding in a little bit more detail about yourself and why you’re including it, if that makes sense.
So, um, take a step back. You can ask other people for feedback, maybe look at the other questions and just kind of remind yourself, why did I choose this question in the first place? Like, was there something in the back of your mind that prompted you to choose this one specifically? Um, [00:49:00] was it the easiest to answer or like, usually there’s a connection between why you chose that specific question over others.
Um, so it really just take some time for reflection and, and that I think is going to give you a little bit of clarity into continuing to write.
Okay, our next question is, should we talk more about our values as a student, as in teamwork and communication or parts of life that are important to us, like music or family, whichever is going to tell us the most about who you are. So if you feel both of those things, both of those areas are really important to who you are, right about both of them, you know, maybe you take one of each, maybe you take your family and you take an, you know, an instrument you’ve been playing or something along those lines.
And you include those. Because again, it’s not the topic it’s not writing about this or that. It’s about, am I writing this in a way where I am shining [00:50:00] through? So it sounds like both of those areas are really important to you and both of those aspects of maybe who you are. So combine them and put them both in an essay.
You don’t have to choose one of the. I can imagine a really great essay that’s about the teamwork and music or the communication and music or the teamwork and family or the communication and family. There it is. Absolutely. Absolutely. Um, I remember reading an essay on a student who valued teamwork. And so she compared her family to the Incredibles.
Yeah. That was really creative. And, you know, the way about comparing the characters and, you know, creating new villains throughout the essay, you know, it was really creative, but it showed us, she valued teamwork. She, you know who she was and how she approached, you know, life’s obstacles, um, and, and why that was important for her to showcase.
So again, it’s not what it is. You could definitely combine both of those topics. [00:51:00] Our next question is, do your essays and extracurriculars necessarily have to be related to your major? No. Um, you know, I think there’s a lot of debate in admissions offices and even guidance counselors, uh, have chimed in on this, you know, if you’re interested in the sciences, um, we, it, you know, it’s really more about your academics.
Um, extracurriculars are great. And if they’re not tied to your major, that’s, that’s okay. That’s what college is for, you know, it’s for exploration it’s to try new things. So, you know, if you’re somebody who’s interested in biology, but you weren’t in science club, you know, you weren’t in robotics, you weren’t in this or that, but you have taken AP bio you’re, you know, you’ve gotten really good grades in your science and math courses.
That’s going to speak more than the [00:52:00] extracurricular.
Our next question is for supplemental essays that ask why you want to attend their school. Should, should it be straightforward or should there be some creative story behind it? It should definitely be creative because what the supplemental essay is looking for is your analytical thinking skills. It’s looking at your critical thinking skills.
So, you know, answering it in a straightforward kind of way is boring, but it also, isn’t going to show us anything about you like colleges. We read a lot of supplemental essays. So if it’s written in a creative way, you know, you’re really going to capture the attention of the admissions committee and whoever is reading your application.
Our next question is how do you create a good hook sentence? Okay, well, that’s a, that’s a good question. Um, and it’s difficult. It’s really hard because. You don’t know [00:53:00] the personality of the person reading your essay. Um, so, you know, I would say avoid being cheesy about it because you know, being cheesy about it, maybe like ha ha funny, but that’s not how we take it most of the time.
Um, so I would say, read your essay entirely, like read the whole thing and write down some of the key things that you’re taking away from your essay. Like, you know, um, so for example, if you’re writing about fishing, you know, uh, what you want to take away from that is okay, it’s about, you know, how you cast your fishing rod, um, how quiet you have to be, how you know, patient, you have to be like, take some key words from the essay itself and jot them down.
Reading the essay throughout that might kind of give you a jumping [00:54:00] point to say, okay, well, if I want them to get to this point in the essay, I have to mention this. And maybe that what you’re thinking of ends up being that first sentence. Um, and again, this is where feedback can come in really handy from your friends, you know, your family, your guidance counselor, and asking them, you know, what did you get from this?
Or, you know, if you had to describe this essay in one sentence, what would it be? And take that and write it in and jot down, you know, a few different things and see which one sticks. And when you find the one that you’re like, when you find the sentence that feels most authentic to you where you’re like, that’s it, or I think that’s it.
That sounds good. That’s how, you know, you’ve created a good intro hook sentence, but also please know, I have read essays that have a really good hook and the rest of the essay is trash. So it’s not like if you’re going to have a good hook. You better have a good rest of the essay as well. So just [00:55:00] just know that it’s not all about the hook intro.
It’s really about the entire narrative that you’re portraying.
Our next question is if colleges ask for different things in the essay, can I write one essay and change little things or what I have to make an essay for each college and university? Um, I would do whatever feels the most authentic for you. So if you, you know, especially like for somebody who might be a perfectionist writing, multiple essays might be the most helpful because you can be more specific.
Um, ideally we don’t want to read as admissions advisors. We don’t want to read more essays than we have to. So, you know, sometimes just having one strong one is better than having a view that, you know, our kind of average. Um, so you want to make sure that the main essay, [00:56:00] the personal statement, if that’s what you’re going for is the strongest.
And then if you feel that writing additional essays is going to be helpful, then do that. Um, but you want to make sure that everything that you’re writing is great, not just all of them average, if that makes sense. And also, unfortunately there will be some prompts that you won’t have like a supplemental essay prompts that will not be prompts for any other college.
Yeah. Um, okay. Our next question is what if you don’t have extraneous circumstances and does that reduce your chances of getting into a college? No. So here’s the thing is the strenuous circumstances. Um, you can totally leave blank. I’ve I’ve seen everything in a strenuous circumstances. I’ve seen students who are like, you know, I have ADHD and it’s like, well, we can’t consider that in the admissions [00:57:00] process.
I’ve had students who have written, you know, um, especially with COVID, a lot of students are using that section to write about how COVID has impacted their lives. Um, and it can be helpful, but it can also hurt your, um, if you don’t need to write anything or you don’t feel like you need to write anything, leave it blank, because if you’re just filling it into, fill it in, it could potentially hurt you.
Um, but a way that it could be helpful is, you know, for some students moving to a virtual environment has really impacted their GPA or, um, or their grades. So, you know, we’ve, we’ve read applications so far that, you know, their freshmen and sophomore year are really great. And then junior year, um, has taken a little bit of a dip.
And so. You know, going into the strenuous circumstances and seeing, you know, I was working off of one laptop with, you know, three other siblings. And so, you know, my time online was actually really limited. So, you know, it just gives us a better understanding of how [00:58:00] your academics have been impacted by the strenuous circumstances.
And I think that’s the best example I could give, but you certainly don’t have to, to fill it in. And if you don’t need to, you can just leave it blank. It’s not going to impact you negatively. Okay. I think this is probably going to be our last question, which is what would you, what would you definitely say is the biggest thing to never leave out of an essay or elaborate the most on instead?
I think it’s, it depends on the narrative, but overall, the most important thing to elaborate on is why. What you’re writing about matters to you? I’m like, why does this matter to you? Like the student who wrote the essay on her 15 minute walk to CVS, the reason she was writing about it. And you know, this was intertwined into the narrative is [00:59:00] because it was the only aspect of her day where she could zone out for 15 minutes.
It was the only time of the day where she was on autopilot. And for her, that was soothing. It was just comforting to take a walk to CVS. Like she had done hundreds of times, it just kind of be in her own mind and relax, and then end up back on the couch. So it’s the best thing to elaborate on is why, what you’re writing about matters and why we should care.
Ultimately. Absolutely. I think that’s a great place to end. Okay. Thank you everyone so much for coming out tonight and Ariana, thank you so much for prison. Thanks for having me guys and good luck to everybody. No matter what stage you’re in. Yes, absolutely. Okay. So this is the end of the webinar. We hope, uh, we had a wonderful time telling you about college essays and here’s the rest of our July series.
So our last July webinar is tomorrow on navigating [01:00:00] financial aid deadlines. All right. Have a great night, everyone. Bye.