AO Advice: How to Write Great Supplemental Essays that Stand Out
Are you struggling with writing your college supplemental essays? Do you want to learn how to make your essays stand out and impress admissions officers? Join our webinar “AO Advice: How to Write Great Supplemental Essays that Stand Out” and gain insider knowledge from former Admissions Officer Aya Waller-Bey on how to craft compelling essays that showcase your unique qualities and interests.
During this webinar, you will learn:
- How to choose the right topics that reflect your personality and values
- Strategies for brainstorming and organizing your ideas
- Tips for crafting a strong thesis statement and hook
- Techniques for writing vivid and engaging narratives
- Common pitfalls to avoid in your writing
- How to edit and revise your essays for maximum impact
Aya will share her insights and answer your questions about the college application process.
Whether you are just starting to write your essays or looking to improve your existing drafts, this webinar will provide you with the tools and guidance you need to create outstanding essays that showcase your unique qualities and help you stand out in the admissions process.
Don’t miss this opportunity to gain valuable insights and make your college application shine! Register now for “AO Advice: How to Write Great Supplemental Essays that Stand Out”.
2023-04-11 – AO Advice: How to Write Great Supplemental Essays that Stand Out
Hi everyone and welcome to tonight’s webinar. My name is Anesha Grant. I am a Senior Advisor at CollegeAdvisor and I will be your moderator for tonight’s session. Tonight’s webinar is Admissions Officer Advice: How to Write Great Supplemental Essays That Stand Out. Before we get started, I just wanna orient everyone with the webinar timing.
Our presenter will share some tips, resources, and guidance, and then we will open up the floor to respond to your questions in a live Q&A. Please only submit your questions through the Q&A tab. Please try to minimize present, sending them via the chat as they pop up and can get distracting. But you can also download the slides under the handouts tab whenever you get a chance.
And you can start with submitting questions whenever you want, again, in that Q&A tab. Now let’s meet our presenter, Aya Waller-Bey. Hey Aya, how are you? Hi everyone. I’m so happy to be here. I am Aya Waller-Bey, a former admissions officer from Georgetown University. And again, I’m super excited to talk to you all today about supplemental essays.
A little bit about me I attended Georgetown University for undergrad, where I studied sociology. And then I became an admissions officer after I graduated and I worked in the admissions office, but also I, I managed the cultural multicultural recruitment. I also reviewed for the four states of the Midwest after my time.
In admissions there. I went on to England, where I got my master’s at the University of Cambridge in England with the support of the Gates Cambridge Foundation, which is a foundation that Bill and Melinda Gates have. And also while there I worked in alumni interviewing, so I interviewed students for George Chow while in England and also in Phoenix where I live for a very short time.
Now I’m getting my PhD at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where I also study college admissions essay. So this is my jam and I’ve been working with CollegeAdvisor for this will be my third admission cycle. So I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many amazing young people and I look forward to answering your questions about how to write great supplemental essays.
Thanks so much, Aya. Before we get started, we do wanna give is some context on you all who are out there listening to us. So we’re gonna send out a poll and let us know what grade you are in. And as you’re waiting for some responses, I have a food related question. Fish and chips, yes or no? No. Like, is that a
It’s a very, I, I’m vegetarian, so I’m not interested in fish and chips. And then their chips did never had any seasoning. And they also have mushy peas. It’s like fish and chips and mushy peas, which is like a mushy pea. Okay. Like green mush? No, the answer is no. Overwhelming. No. I do eat meat and fish and it was also a no for me.
So but you know, I hope our UK folks don’t get mad at us, but I was just wondering, I haven’t, I’ve only visited briefly, I didn’t spend as much time there as you did, but I was just wondering. Alright, well UK folks again, don’t. Doesn’t matter us. We have particular tastes, but I’m sure other cuisine is lovely in the United Kingdom.
All right. We will go ahead and, and close our poll. Thanks y’all for submitting your responses and just so, you know, the majority folks with us today are in the 11th grade, so about 70% of those with us are in the 11th grade and then the remainder are in eighth 10th grade or other. So that’s who’s in the space with us.
I will turn it over to you and be back a little bit later. Awesome. Thank you so much. All right, so to really start this conversation, we must kind of begin asking what are supplemental essays? And I’m, I’m sure you hear about personal statements and supplemental essays and various conversations about the college admissions process.
So just to clarify, supplemental essays are, they’re, they’re essays that really invite students to write about. Topics that are often very school specific. So unlike that personal statement, which is the statement, you’ll write, you know, one of those and then submit them to all of your schools.
Supplemental essays are really required by only some colleges and universities, and they’re used to highlight your fit. So how do you align with the specific colleges and universities? They should tell colleges and universities something that they don’t already know about you, and really give some deeper insight into how you think and approach problems.
So again, they’re, they’re more substantive and more school specific, and they’re also usually shorter than a personal statement, which is a typical 500 to 650 words. That supplemental essay could be anywhere from one sentence, one word, 200 words, 250 on average, which there are some that are a little bit longer, but those are more of a rarity.
Now again, what is the purpose of the supplemental essays? As I mentioned, these essays are really used to highlight why and how a student might be a good fit for a university, and this is based on their academic, social, and postgraduate interest. So these essays can emphasize, you know, why are desire, why you desire to attend a specific university, your creativity, your personality, some of that spunk and that spark that you maintain.
And also, like the personal statement, they also demonstrate your ability to write clearly and concisely. As I mentioned earlier, these essays tend to be a little shorter than our personal statement. So your ability to write concisely, clearly, succinctly is very critical to really having a strong supplemental.
Now are supplemental essays require, as I mentioned earlier, not all universities require supplemental essays. If a school lists a supplemental essay prompt on their application, even if it’s optional, you should almost always respond. Now, an exception to this is there are essays that may ask, are there special circumstances that you may encounter?
Those types of essays, really, unless you had a me medical emergency, you changed schools. Maybe you kind of lost a loved one that was really an immediate family. Something really significant happened. You should, you don’t necessarily need to answer that one, but if there’s an optional essay that says like, why do you wanna go to Dartmouth?
You should probably answer that essay question. Okay. So again, not all universities are gonna require supplemental essays, but for those who do you really want to just kind of show that you’re willing to go the extra mile to answer the question? Now. So what kinds of questions do they ask? Now these questions could vary widely and often they correspond with the culture and the clerks and the, again, that spunk of colleges and universities.
So you have the Why School essay. So why do you wanna go to Georgetown? You have the extracurricular essay, you know, why. What extracurricular activity is more important to you, your community? How would you contribute to our school environment, the idiosyncratic essay. If you were a wisdom tooth, what would you think?
You have the challenge essay tell us about something you had to overcome. And the short answer essays, which vary widely. So there is very a variety of supplemental essays. Short answer of questions. And these are some of the ones that you are more likely to see when you are applying to various colleges and universities.
Now this is a great question. So when should I start working on my essays? So here are some things to consider. First you wanna review application components. Does the school or the schools on your list require applicants to submit supplemental essays to begin with? Now, schools changed year by year sometimes whether or not they’re gonna require or ask supplemental essays.
Also, the types of questions that they ask participants sometimes are not kind of thought about until like later in the summer, right? So the common a application portal actually kind of updates August 1st. So that’s when the updated essays and prompts and things are released anyway. So you also wanna confirm application deadlines.
So think about yourself, okay? Are you applying to early action deadlines, early decision deadlines, or regular decision deadlines? There’s also rolling emissions deadlines. So those, the deadlines will help dictate when it’s critical for you to apply or start to work on those essays. And then I always encourage students to start with those, that personal statement.
Again, prioritizing a, a completed draft of the common app essay or that personal statement, the one that will be submitted to all your schools, really is a great way to get those juices flowing is a really great opportunity to start really thinking like what part of my narrative, what part of my story, my identity, my experiences, my interests, do I want to communicate?
Right? So I think though, starting with the personal statement is a really fantastic way to kind of really start the essay writing process. But nevertheless, I think over the summer, The summer before your senior year. So we have a lot of juniors in the audience. So this is like prime time for you all to really start thinking through.
Now you may say, Hey, you just said the essay prompts won’t upload or reload ’em to August 1st. This is true however, you know, view your college application or college college’s websites and their application portals. Like you can literally go to Johns Hopkins University’s website and see what they require for the application and.
Questions such as like your why, like why do you want to go to Johns Hopkins? You can already start thinking about that for your respective institutions, right? You don’t have to wait until you know what the essay questions are to start thinking about your why. I mean, your why is gonna motivate, why you’re applying anyway.
It’s gonna help your letters or recommended letter recommenders. Write a stronger essay. It’s gonna help you write a stronger essay. So thinking about your why, thinking about the day in the life of who you are, thinking about moments that have challenged you, people who inspire you, those that motivate you.
You can start thinking about those in Johnny Daniel’s essay topics or responses today, so you don’t have to wait till August 1st to do that. So speaking of timelines and preparation, we do wanna know where you, you all are in your college classes and I know a lot of folks are. Still in the 11th grade.
It’s so early on in your process, but still let us know. As we, before we move forward and just let us know if you haven’t started your researching schools. You have started working on your essays. I know that for me, I have all of my juniors currently working on their personal statement, but it’s okay if you have not started yet.
So just let us know where you are in the process
and I apologize I’m a little stuffy today.
All right. They make, we heard from almost everybody, so I’ll go ahead and close our poll. The majority of folks, again, are, seem to be researching schools. About 9% are getting them applications together. 15% haven’t started. No sweat to the 15% who have not started. If this is your beginning, it’s a great place to start.
And then to the 74%. Hopefully some of today’s conversation will give, be contest on how to think about supplemental essays and what to look for as you are visiting schools and how those things can inform your essays. I’ll go ahead and close our poll. Thanks everybody for spinning your responses and letting Aya take a quick water break, and I’ll hand it back over to you.
Awesome. Thank you. Yeah, this is a great time to really get started. So again, fear not, if you have not really kinda leaned into the process yet tit the season, right? And this is why we’re here. So some tips for crafting your why essay. Something to think about. Is, you know, you really wanna demonstrate that you’ve done some research.
So that’s a really important piece of the puzzle you wanna consider. Are there faculty teaching courses, conducting research, overseeing programs and units? Units that align with your interests? So you really want to demonstrate that you’ve done some research, right? So here’s an example. You know, you can say, given my interest in criminal justice reform, I look forward to joining Professor Johnson’s Law and Society course in legal community service program inside local prisons.
That’s very specific, that’s very detailed. It shows you’ve done research. You name a professor, you name a program, you name something that you could participate in that’s currently available at the university, and it really shows you’ve done your homework, right? So think of. Also think of place. So you might say, you know, is this school located in an area or community with school specific connections or relationships?
And I’ll say this as someone who attended a college or university in Washington dc, we attracted a lot of people who were interested in politics. Government foreign service, right law be in the nation’s capital. So you really wanna think about like location, is that matter? Does that matter to you? Is that important?
And you wanna make that connection when thinking about your why School essay. So for an example, is a school again located in an area or community with school specific connections or relationships? For an example, you can say Penn State’s partnership with farmers in rural Pennsylvania will enable me to engage in research on farming techniques.
So maybe you’re really committed to learning about farming and farming techniques. And then Penn State is just like a great location. They may have a program or relationship with a local nonprofit or organization that will allow you to do that. So you really wanna show that you’ve done the done the work, which requires some research and a level, a certain level of specificity.
You know, also something to think about when thinking about your essays. You know, when crafting that white essay, have you spent the time understanding the ethos and values of the campus program and community? Right? So each campus community, they’ll talk about it on their website, students may highlight it and their student profiles.
Just like what types of values does the school maintain, right? Is it a university that says we are global minded and that 95% of our students study abroad? Does that matter to you? Are you a student who’s globally minded? Are you, are you a student that’s interested in studying abroad? Do you want to participate in activities abroad?
Is that important to you? If so, highlight that in your why Essay, right? Also, you wanna, the essay should demonstrate that you’ve researched the school extensively, as I mentioned, and not just rely on its reputation. So I will say, it’s a full part to say, you know, I wanna go to this school because it’s a party.
Mm. You may not want to mention that in your essay. Right? And again, you want to show that you’ve substantially thought about how you would fit into a campus environment, right? That’s important, right? They want students who are gonna add to their campus environment. They don’t want any students gonna be miserable.
So something to think about. So again, areas to research, we’re thinking about that why school essay, you want academics. You wanna think about the academics, including majors, faculty programs, and community-based opportunities. You wanna think about the school location and geographic environment and traditions and values.
And then finally, extracurricular activities including sports and service related activities that may align with your passions and interests. You know, you really want to kind of think about how you will fit in and contribute to this campus community and or how you might stand out in this campus community.
So maybe there may not be something that. The that the, the university or campus community already possessed, but maybe you wanna get that started based on your own experiences or extracurricular involvement. Which brings me to this piece. You know, how to contribute, or excuse me, how to write and talk about that extracurricular activities in that extracurricular activity essay.
So, for an example, you know, there’s a question that we see in a lot of supplemental essays. Please briefly elaborate on one of your extra critical activities or work experiences. So you wanna do the following. You wanna illustrate why and how you devoted time to a specific, specific activity. So the why is so important, right?
So it’s not enough to say like, I participated in Spanish National Honor Society for three. Okay, thank you for sharing, but why? Why is Spanish Honor Society important to you? What have you done? What type of impact have you made participating in this activity? What have you learned about yourself participating in this activity?
And if relevant, how would you continue to participate in this kind of Spanish Honor society or Spanish cultural clubs while on campus at your respective institution? So it’s not enough to just say, this is what I’ve done. Or this is activity I participated in. You wanna dig a little deeper. You wanna show meaning how it’s impactful, what you learned, what you’ve what, how have you’ve grown.
That’s critical. So I’m thinking about this community essay, right? Which an example is, how would you add to the diversity of the school? So it’s asking you to add like, how would you add value to the campus community, the campus climate, right? How will you contribute to the campus community? So first you wanna, we can define diversity in a host of ways.
While students can discuss racial and diversity, we can also talk about geographic socioeconomic ideological. All types of ways that we add to the diversity of our various campus communities. So you wanna talk about experiences or identities that you believe you can bring to a campus community.
You also wanna discuss how your lived experiences and identities inform the person you are and the type of student and classmate and roommate you’ll be. So for an example, I mean, may, maybe you’ve been an only child, right? And you are used to just being the only one in your household, but you’re yearning to be a part of the community.
You’re yearning to like share what you’ve learned. Maybe you have a lot of curiosity. Maybe being an only child has led you to be even more creative as you’ve had to create experiences for yourself. You wanna talk about like, you know, Although I, I was an only child, I’ve been able to create these universes.
My imagination has allowed me to take me to these places or I’ve been a part of these organizations and I wanna continue that activity and that engagement to be a part of a community as a student at X Institution. So you really wanna just talk about your story. You wanna be authentic, right? Also, what do you bring to the table?
Why will your presence make the university community a better place? So it’s not enough to say like, I’m great. I have all A’s, I’m gonna study biology. I wanna be a doctor. That’s great. There’s a lot of students who are like that. What will you do differently? How would you contribute to the, the campus community?
Now you have the idiosyncratic essays, right? So those are those funky essays that you, Chicago is notorious for having them. An example, and I mentioned this earlier, is, you know, what advice would a wisdom to have? I’m sure you’re like, huh? What? How, what am I supposed to, I’ve never been a wisdom tooth. I mean, maybe you have, but I personally have not.
So you might be wondering how on earth can I respond eloquently to this? Well, you wanna lean into the creativity and embrace the topic. Don’t overthink it. You know, say this prompt is a hundred words or 50 words. You just have to talk about, okay. Wisdom too. They’re in the back, you know? You know, being in the back.
They get to see other parts of their mouth. Maybe the other teeth cannot see, you know, do they get, you know, when you floss, it might be hard, you know, whatever. Just lean into it, you know? Don’t overthink it. Be original based on your own experience. Just kind of think, what would I think about, you know, I think sometimes we’re like, what has every other person said?
You start Googling and it’s like, Huh, let me think about that. And again, you wanna share something that may be unknown to universities about yourself, you know, so, you know, it asks about a wisdom tooth, but what would your wisdom tooth say? Like what advice would they have? Because your wisdom tooth would know you, right?
So like maybe to the world, they’ll say this, but the I as wisdom tooth would say as someone who like makes our bed every day in the morning, which I do, or someone who like flosses three times a a day, which I do my wisdom tooth will have such a different perspective. So you just wanna lean into it and have the fun with it.
And thinking about the challenge essay, here are some tips too. So an example of the challenge essay is like, what is the challenge you faced and how did you over. First and foremost, you wanna be honest and authentic. You really want to represent your life and your story in an adequate way, and that accurately reflects your background.
You also wanna define a challenge in your own words and say like, what your challenges looking like in your life. I often hear young people in my own research working in CollegeAdvisor, just out in the wild say, I’ve never had a challenge, I’ve never been through anything. And that’s not true. Life is full of challenges.
I don’t know anyone from any background socio, say, economically, racially, ethnically, you name it, that has never experienced a challenge, right? So you wanna define what challenges look like you, based on your own life and purview. You wanna reflect on experience where you’ve had personal growth. So, you know, you could have been challenging your AP calculus class and you had to really put in the work.
You, you had to get a tutor, you had to. Attend study groups. You had to like watch YouTube videos you had to do, but you grew, you grew tremendously. It, it taught you how to be self-sufficient and taught you how to be self-motivated. It taught to you, it taught you how to ask for help. That’s beautiful and that’s valuable.
So you wanna talk about that personal growth and then you wanna find what you learn about yourself and others. So what characteristics did you learn based on this challenge? Maybe you learned that you really have to study and that everything won’t come easy, but anything worth having is worth working for.
You know, maybe you learned that. Like you have to lean into your community, your classmates, maybe that student who’s always knocking it out the park, lean on them and they can support you too. So you wanna talk about like how you’ve, how you’ve learned, but also how you learn from others. Additionally, there’s a short answer I essay, you know, and that could be, what is your favorite song, book or artist?
It could be literally, you can say, my favorite song is Drake’s Take Care. I, you know, it could be any song. It could be any book. So don’t overthink it. Literally, even if you feel like your book is the book that everybody’s gonna say at your high school, just say, it’s your book. Just put it down. Don’t overthink it.
Be be specific. Show your personality and show how you approach questions and how you think. So you know, you know, what’s your favorite song? You don’t have to like, again, overthink it. Whatever your favorite song is at the moment, write it. Right? So I think sometimes those short answer questions, students like overthink them and it’s not necessary.
So, thinking about the additional information, essay questions, you know, and this, I mentioned a little bit about this earlier. It’ll say, you know, please use this specific space, or please use the space if you had additional info materials or writing samples you would like us to consider. So oftentimes, you know, this is, this is an opportunity for students to talk about unforeseen circumstances or challenges.
And these include dips in grades or school challenges, limited access to resources, time out of the classroom, which could be medical, death of a loved one, relocation. And then you have that separate covid impact essay, which I believe still exists. I recognize that our covid conversation is shifting.
So again, you don’t wanna use this essay to the, to say, I really wanna go to John Hopkins. I think I’m a really great student. These I got all A’s. I work really hard. That’s not appropriate in this particular essay. This is asking like maybe you got all ass, your freshman and sophomore year and your junior, you got all, like, you took a dip and you got all B’s and it’s because you moved from rural Oklahoma to Detroit, Michigan.
And it was the culture shock. You had to change and there was a lot of things happening that’s important you wanna talk about that you wanna be able to explain. And also your counselors or Whom’s ever writing your letter of recommendations could also add that context. So you wanna talk about that or say like, again, you were in a rural community or, or urban center where you didn’t have access to like, I don’t know, wifi, talk about that.
Or because of your parent, you know, parent move your abroad, then you move back, then you moved abroad again and you kept, you were, you were out of the classroom. Talk about that. So there are opportunities to talk about those moments where you may feel like, oh, there’s not a strong place for me to talk about these things.
Another very important question and one that we get often is, can reuse essays? So the supplemental essay should correspond with the specific institution, right? So it should be based on your interest in going to Johns Hopkins or University of Michigan. If they’re too vague, they won’t demonstrate that you’ve actually done the homework, right?
Or show that you know why you’re applying. Not just like, I just wanna apply to Harvard because it’s Harvard. Like, you really need to show the why, right? However, supplemental essays tend to be very similar, so you can really certainly utilize copy and paste. So if, if they ask you, why are you interested in studying in biochem or sociology?
The reason might be similar, right? So you can use what you said for this application, what you use for UT Austin, what you use for University of Florida, what you use for, you know, Ohio State and University of Michigan and Georgetown. And you know, you can use those, right? Again, colleges won’t read applications to other schools, so they won’t see that you, the supplemental essays that you submitted to Dartmouth and then also submitted to University of Florida or UT Austin, or UC Berkeley, et cetera.
So you should not reuse essays, however, from, for programs within the same school. So if you, if there’s an opportunity for you to apply to like the School of Ed and then a school of communication, you should change those essays. But if you’re applying to Dartmouth and then to Berkeley and to University of Florida, those schools won’t say like, Hey, they wrote this supplemental essay for this school, college, and universities don’t see that.
Awesome. And those some specific moments about you can easily lend themselves to a variety of prompts. Again. So when you start, this is why I say start with that personal statement. There’s so many things that you’ll like learn about yourself as you’re writing that essay. And there’s so many things that you’ll be able to reflect upon that they can really kind of lend themselves to a variety.
So like, you know, what’s your wisdom tooth may say could also be based on like your passion for certain extracurricular activity. Or maybe you want to be a dentist, so you’re always thinking about teeth. So there is a way, there are ways that your essays will work together. So I don’t want you to think that you’re always constantly starting from scratch and then your final advice, you know, I always tell, you know, students that I work with to research research and, and.
And write in specific specifics is the key to answering each of the prompts. So you really want to continue to research. You wanna continue to kind of write early and often about in response to some of these prompts, you wanna keep a log of school details or informations that align with your interests.
So here’s an example. I’m working with the student who’s gonna be doing a summer program at Johns Hopkins this summer. And one piece of advice I gave to that student is to, while on campus, to write, write about like things they see. They, they smell things, they observe the people they interact with, the buildings that they go into, like keeping a log of like beautiful and special details that they have because it’s gonna allow them to write a really beautiful supplemental or even personal statement essay when it, when it’s the time comes, right?
So when you are able to speak to the specificity that really allows you to shine, you also wanna follow schools on social media. I think a lot of schools have really leaned into TikTok and Instagram and et cetera where they’re doing these videos. So they might have students like take over where they share their experiences on university social media platforms, and that’s a really great opportunity to also learn some of those like small details.
You know, they might say, in this dorm we actually have a refrigerator that keeps ice cream. I don’t know, that’s just a really random example, but there’s ways where you can learn these little nuance and niche things that can be really helpful. As you kind of explained like why you’re interested in a particular university, you also want to be thoughtful and honest.
I can’t, you know, stress that enough, that authenticity is critical. You want to be true to yourself because you want to focus on who you are and not the university, not what the university want you. And I mean, this goes without saying, I hope, but you wanna proofread, you wanna use the read aloud feature on Microsoft Word to capture correctly spell words.
Use it the wrong way. I always give the example of a student who, who wrote about her love for torturing animals, and she didn’t not love torturing animals, she loved training animals, but it was an entire essay about torturing animals and torturing was spelled correctly, right? But it was the wrong word used.
So you really want to proofread, have a parent, a teacher, someone you trust, look over that essay and just make sure how you want to be be seen as coming across accurately. So that, those are my like final pieces of advice for you all tonight. Thanks so much Aya, and thanks to you all for starting to submit some questions.
Again, you can submit those questions to the Q&A tab and we would ask, oh, did we lose Aya?
Aya, are you there? I’m here. Oh, sorry, I lost you for a second on my screen, so maybe that was something on my end. Apologies everybody. Alright. So yes, please submit your questions through the Q&A tab whenever you get ready. If you are not able to submit questions, you might need to log out and log back in through the e through the link that you received via your email and not the webinar landing page.
Just as a heads up, we, yeah, so you can, you might have to log out, log back in. All right. So I’m gonna go ahead and get started with the questions. The first question that I had for you which I think you answered but wanting to go a bit deeper into it, is what exactly is an admissions officer looking for In the essay?
In the supplemental essay or any essay in, I think in any essay, but we can focus on the supplemental essay given the focus. Yeah. So in a supplemental essay, they, first, they wanna see that you answer the question. They want to know that you can read and that you can respond to a specific question. So they wanna know how you think and how you approach writing.
They also wanna know that you can write well. They also want to see, again, whatever the question is, they wanna see how you address and respond to the particular prompt. They want to see how much you know about the institution, how, how well informed you are about the institution. They want to see if your interest for the specific in institution is genuine.
They wanna see alignment if your kind of values and insights and interests align with the institution. So like if you said, I really wanna go to a, a campus surrounded by greenery where I could hike trails. You might not wanna go to Georgetown University. I mean it is in DC and there are some trails, but it’s not Dartmouth.
So they also wanna make sure that there’s a true alignment with your interest in the university. So that’s what they’re looking for. Can you write, can you answer a question? Can you write succinctly? Are you truly interested in this school? Are you aligned? Have you done your homework? Those are the main things they’re looking for in a supplemental essay.
So this came up specifically regarding how to use the additional information section. So this person asked if additional in, in the additional information section, if there’s not an unforeseen circumstances, should, should you leave it blank or some other kind of strategic way to use it. No, you should leave it blank.
Okay. And then someone said, added to that, for the unforeseen circumstances, how far, how far back should. It depends. I mean, how the unforeseen circumstances, how has it impacted you today? So say you moved from Germany to the United States in eighth grade and that has like altered how you adjusted to the ninth grade.
I think it’s worth noting, but if you say in like middle school, you moved if in fifth grade you moved to a different state and that if you don’t think that’s currently impacting your high school performance, I wouldn’t add it. So it’s really how has whatever experience you’ve had impacting your high schooling performance.
So it could be something that happened when you were in a second grade. It also could be something that happened when you were in eighth grade. So it really depends like what is directly impacting your high school performance. Now I will say generally it’s, it’s four experiences happening during those, those four years in high school.
But there are circumstances where something that happened much earlier in your life, say you could have been diagnosed with a disability and you could be diagnosed with a medical illness. So there are ways where things that happen, you know, way before high school impacts you. But that’s more of a, it depends type of question.
I think it is primarily made for like. Maybe you left this school, maybe you moved around while in high school. However, there are things that happened to us before high school that directly impacts our performance in in high school. So that’s really like a, it depends answer. So I’m sorry if that is not sufficient for, for whoever.
Ask the question. I mean, go far as go as far back as you need to, so long as you can point to the impact in the present it seems. This was a question. So regarding, I guess the limited word space that sometimes have, should we spend time painting a picture and supplements or use every word to specifically discuss the outcome, impact, and significance of the, of whatever we are writing about?
This is, so I would say show don’t tell. So instead of saying I’m gonna use my alma mater, Georgetown, I went there. So this is why I use Georgetown a lot. Cause I went there instead of saying, you know, I’m interested in seeing. The, you know, the Potomac River, you know, from the, the, the window of my, like apartment building.
And the university is committed to service and that’s something that I’m devoted to. So instead of saying that, you can say, you know as someone who has participated in like, cross-country, you know, running along the river is something that I haven’t been able to do because my community doesn’t have a river.
And I’m very much interested in, in, in participating in this particular program because this is important to me. So you really wanna show, don’t tell, like you really wanted, like, you might have 200 words, you might have 500 words, you might have 50, you might have 25, you might have one. So you really want to maximize that real estate, right?
And just say as much as you can about who you are and like, make that alignment between who you are and, and what the university interests are. You wanna make that very clearly. So I’ll say this. The fluff when it comes to supplemental essays, you don’t have time for the fluff. You wanna get to the meat.
So prioritize the meat of the sandwich, take off the bread and the lettuce and the tomato, and focus on the meat and the supplemental essay. So you really wanna show and don’t tell. Thank you. The next question is, cancel supplemental essays, make or break an application. No. What makes or break your application is for parmel?
It’s largely transcripts. Your grades. Let me actually not say definitively. No, let me, let me say this. If you write supplemental essays and you say the wrong school and all the essays, so say if you’re applying to Georgetown and all you say is American University, which is also in dc, that could be like, oh.
Next, this person is not even focused on the school. So it could negatively affect you if you are just so erroneous and not like careless. Yes, but supplemental, like other qualitative parts of the obligation are really there to help you. So they’ll make a break if they’re just don’t, if you don’t answer the question, if you are obscene with the word limit, like if you just, if they say 200 and you go over to five, not a good look.
If you misrepresent the school, if you lie, yes, it could, it could be detrimental to your application, but they are there to help you. So unless you’re kind of falling into those very, like obscene and egregious things should be there to, to help you. For sure. So I wanna retract when I say like, no, it could, if you like, again, if you’re egregious saying in the wrong school name and all your essays exceeding the word count, not answering the question, that will negatively impact your application for sure.
So it seems like it could break the application, but it may not make the application. Yes. It may not like send you over the, over the top, but it could pull you towards the bottom. Yeah. It’s, it’s a part of a larger story for sure. And then something you mentioned there that I think is a quick response, but is it, is writing better?
Is writing more better than writing less? My quick response would be write to the word limit. But I don’t know if you have thoughts that that’s exact. I agree. Write if it says 200 words, if you write one 50 to 200, you’re fine. If you write 25 and it says 200 words, that’s not good. So whatever the word limit is, write as close to the word limit as possible.
Don’t go over it. This next question, I think we can often, in our conversations about essays how do I make I’m sorry. No. Is it, is it good to write more creatively or humorously in essays? I mean, it depends. I mean, if, is it an idiosyncratic essay? Is it asking you like, what would a wisdom tooth or a belly button say?
Or is it saying, tell me about a situation you have to overcome. I mean, I think different essay prompts may warrant different tones, but I also think it’s, it is based on your personality. You know, some students just have a certain type of humor or tone that they take in their just general disposition and daily activities.
But, you know, recognize that everybody may, may not understand your humor. Humor is hard to translate on, on paper. Humor is very hard to translate on paper with people you don’t know and who don’t know you. So if it’s, this is an example of like, let people see it, you know, let other people in your network, your teachers, your counselors, your parent, a sibling, have them read the.
What do they think? Do they think it’s funny? Is it offensive? You know, sometimes we can lean into the offensive nature of humor sometimes. So, you know, I would never say, I would never discourage someone, someone to say like, absolutely don’t do it. But I think it really, it, again, this is another, it depends.
I can’t say, you know, emphatically because I have not read it. And I think it’s important to have people in your network, your teachers are, have them read it, what do they think? You know, not every essay prompt will warrant it to some humorous story, but some do. And I think it’s okay if that’s a part of your personality.
You just have to realize that not everyone might find you funny. So I guess this is, this is an opinion more so than anything, but is getting an essay coach worth it? And is it recommended to talk with an English teacher or counselor for grammar and writing tips? So I’ll start with the second question first.
Yeah. I always say write your drafts and have your talk to your counselors and teachers. Sure. I think that’s why they’re there. They’re supposed to, you know, help and provide guidance. Guidance. Is a essay coach worth it? I think a essay coach in itself is, is an interesting kind of type of support. That’s a very limited touchpoint, limited kind of engagement.
They definitely could help you think about things you have not thought about yourself. Oftentimes, if they’re credited, if they’re robust, like we have a CollegeAdvisor, they’ll be able to speak to not just the essay from their own experience, but also the work of the students that they work with. And that could be helpful.
But I don’t think all essay coaches are, are created equally. So again, this is a really, it depends. I think a lot of students, the majority of students, Statistically submit college applications without the help of any essay coach. And some students feel like they need that additional support. And I think that’s okay too.
I just, I would just say they’re not all created equally. So I think it’s really important that you vet them and to see that they’ve worked with students before in the past, and that they have a, a demonstrated record of excellence that they are able to speak to their ability to support students and have been successful and such.
So again, it really depends, you know, is the support your teachers and co counselors may provide you adequate? Do you feel like you need a second and third opinion? Do you think you’ll benefit from working with someone who don’t know you as well as the people in your life? You know, why not? But again, you really wanna vet the people that you choose to kind of work with in the college admissions process.
Yeah, thank you for that. So, to that point, if you are with col, if you’re not currently working with CollegeAdvisor and would like to get that additional perspective in support we know how overwhelming the process can be. There are a lot of essays. If you want a second, third, or fourth pair of eyes, we have a team of over 300 former admissions officers and admissions experts who are ready to help you and your family navigate the process through one-on-one advising sessions.
You can use a QR code that is on the screen to sign up for a 45 to 60 minute strategy session with an admission specialist on our team and begin your college admissions journey. During that meeting, we will review your extracurriculars, your application strategy and discuss alignment with your college list and any other tools you’re looking to stand out in the admissions world.
The one thing that I really appreciate around essays with within CollegeAdvisor, especially when I’m having a back and forth with student, is the essay review team. So again, it is good to get additional eyes on it, but not kind of shop around for a variety of opinions until someone tells you that it’s good.
But definitely I love the, the idea of engaging friends and family and community and people who know you well and, and speak to whether or not your voice and your personality are shining through definitely in the essay. All right. Here is an interesting question. How should I approach a school with no supplemental essays?
Is something weighed more heavily in that case? Well, for schools who, and, and this is actually I don’t know if I can say with, with certainty that is becoming increasingly unpopular, but some schools are like, Hmm, I just wanna focus on these particular pieces of information. So I want you to take this perspective.
Schools will evaluate with whatever they, whatever data that they have. So if they ask for supplemental essays, they’re gonna read them in their application process. If they don’t ask for them, that means that’s one piece of data. They don’t feel like they need to adequately access their applicant pool.
So if they don’t require it, you are gonna focus on the other parts of your application. That is the transcript, the test scores if required, right? The extracurricular list, that personal statement. You know, summer activities and et cetera. So if they don’t require supplemental essays, that means that they’re gonna look at all the other things that you know, that are not supplemental essays.
So, you know, you wanna have a strong personal statement cuz that that is your writing sample then that is what you’re using to, to just demonstrate that you can respond to questions that you have strong writing proficiency that you can be thoughtful, et cetera. So, I mean, I think if you, if they don’t have supplemental essays, yay.
Cuz that’s less essays to write of course. Right. But also you just wanna make sure those other other points of your application are strong. So it doesn’t mean that other things become more or less inform important. That just means there’s other data that they’re considering in their evaluations. Thank you.
So there are a couple, it’s a combo question of will writing about a passion project help me to stand out and how should I write about a passion project in my application? Well, okay, this is, you may hate the response to this person, but it depends what is the passion project that, that matters.
Writing about it if it acts, I mean, again, what it, I don’t know what the passion project is though. It’s hard to say definite, like definitively. So if the passion project is, you know, maybe you started like, I don’t know, donating used clothes to use dresses to a nonprofit that supports young girls like getting dresses for prom.
If that’s like a service activity and, and there’s a time to talk about extracurricular activity, you can write about it there for sure. And I think that’s a beautiful thing. And there’s an opportunity for that. Or if you really started, like, are obsessed with like cryptocurrency, you went down, went down a rabbit hole of cryptocurrency and like FinTech and all that stuff.
You can write about that when it asks your interest, cuz maybe that aligns with your interest in studying finance. So there’s ways where the passion project projects for sure can show up in those supplemental essays and or personal statement. So if it makes sense and there’s an alignment and you can write about it eloquently for sure, write about it.
I encourage you to do so. So, but you know, it’s really, I think sometimes passion projects and even that language is super interesting. Sometimes students might embark on things to say, I’m doing this to look good on the application. And you wanna steer clear of those types of experiences. You really want to invest TA and, and to experience this that really align with who you are, your passions.
Because I’ll tell you this, when you become and I know Anesha can speak to this too, your fall of senior year, it’s going to be mad, like it’s going to be wild. It’s gonna be you taking your AP and IB courses and dual and roaming courses and applying to 15, 20, in some cases, 25 colleges and universities, 10 of them might require supplemental essays.
You know, some you might apply to one early decision and five early actions, right? And the rest are rolling or regular. It’s gonna be wild. So you do want to make sure the activities you are engaged in are something you’re passionate about. Cause we’re gonna be really spread thin. So I said, all said, all of that to say there are opportunities to talk about those passion projects in your college application, whether it’s in your supplemental essays or your personal statement.
Now, how you talk about them and what they are that really, I need more information to say with like a definitive answer, but absolutely I think there’s opportunities to write about them and I encourage you to do so. This is a formatted question. So can, can you get creative not only with content, but with formatting of the idiosyncratic essay?
For instance, I’m a poet, so could I write a poem as an answer? As long as it fits the word limit? Sure. I mean, sometimes the way the portals are though, the formatting gets all janky. So the formatting becomes like, the stanzas might, like, you might upload it and it might like show, it might not come out like that on the other side.
So the formatting can be a little wonky. So that’s like my only hesitation if the poem still makes sense based on like the rhyming scheme on the pattern. Sure. And I’ve seen people do quotes like that. Sometimes, again, it’s sometimes just like the portal looks wonky. So I’ll say this though, when you do submit your common application or you wanna like, you can download it as like a pdf.
Or like download the file and you can just kind of see what it looks like. Do that just to make sure that the lines, maybe you need to do a double space or maybe you need to enter do enter a return. So you just wanna double check that how you want it to show up on the opposite side is showing up that way, cuz the formatting sometimes can get a little wonky.
So that’s my only like, hesitation about that. But there’s ways you can check that on the backside, like download it before you submit it just to see what they’ll see on their side. So I’ll say that, but you can, people do poems all the time. I’ve seen recipes that’s not my personal favorite. They kind of come off a little cliche and we’ve kind of seen it done already 1,001 times.
But there’s ways to write poetry, especially if you love poetry. There’s ways to kind of show that part of. And the side of you. And I, I think that could be okay. You just wanna double check that the format Maning is gonna show up on the show up how you want it on the other side. Is it, so this is I think in contrast to the schools without supplements for schools that have multiple supplements, is it better to tell a different story in each essay?
Or should I try to have a cohesive theme within each essay surrounding to like complete the application? What if I told you you can have a cohesive theme and submit different stories? Yeah. You wanna share different stories? Because what, what’s the purpose of writing different essays if they’re all gonna be about the same thing?
So for an example, say you were a person committed to service, like you have spent, you know, the past 10 years of a life. So even behind, beyond high school doing some type of community service. Maybe your mom like volunteered at the Red Cross. So you start working with her and then you noticed there was a need in your community.
So you started doing that, and then you joined a school activity where you were doing cons service. So you wanted to write about, in different, you wanted to write about your different involvement in these various different clubs, in different essays, you’re still showing your commitment to service, right?
But you’re talking about them in different ways through different activities. Maybe one is abroad, maybe one is domestic, one is at your school. Or maybe you are super dynamic and like you surprise people because you. Computer science and coding, but you are also a fashion designer. And like that shocks people cause they’re like, wait, you’re a computer scientist and a fashion designer.
And you’re like, yes, I can do both. So you write about computer science being your interest and then your other essays are talking about how creative you are in fashion. But the whole moral of the story is like you are a creative person who’s thinking outside the box and that’s gonna help you be an even better computer scientist and colder.
So I think there’s a, is a yes and I won’t say I don’t think you’re mutually exclusive. So you can write about roller derby, you can write, write about your love for engineering. You can write about your love for baking and you can write about your love for bird watching and still show that, still show a cohesive or still tell rather a cohesive story.
So those are not mutually exclusive and I strongly encourage you to write about different things in your, all of your supplemental essays. Yeah, I, I love that. And I think the one thing I would add to is that your, I think sometimes students think they have to have a theme around their major or something academic.
And I’ve had students who just have. Their theme ends up being like, I’m very dedicated to service and to supporting others. And they, they talk about the variety of ways that they’ve just been a, an addition and a leader in their community, but they’re telling a lot of different stories and, and the theme.
So yeah, the theme doesn’t always have to be, the theme can be kind of values or virtues, doesn’t necessarily have to be academic. Your, I was like, I, I’m trying to think, I’m trying to give you new questions. I know we, we talk about the things a lot of similar things, but one of the questions that just came me is are there types of essays that you would describe as common or, or common topics that folks should try to avoid?
Yeah, I mean, there’s so many common topics. But the, try to avoid part, again, my view on this is increasingly, like it’s changing quite a bit. So we always hear about sports, so students write about Winning the championship game or getting kicked off the team or not auditioning for the team and not making the team, and then trying hard and then getting on the team or losing the, the missing the game shot or tearing their ACL.
So sports is very popular. Service trips, especially those abroad. Volunteering in Tanzania, volunteer in Nicaragua, going to Mexico, passing out bracelets missionary trips, very popular service trips abroad. Popular divorce the death of a loved one, usually grandparents, quite popular. Those are, those are like stereotypically kind of popular, like those are just stories we hear quite a bit.
Whether or not you should write about them is a different conversation. Again, I used to be in either you might. Watch some old webinars and I’m like, don’t write about sports at all. It’s terrible. Boo. I I, my, I’m maturing in my disposition about this because, I mean, I, I do think to a certain extent, we read, we’ve read every, you know, lacrosse, swimming, roller derby story you could think of.
You’re like, this is out of the box. They had never seen this before. We have. However, I do think if something is so important to you, I do think there’s an opportunity for you to talk about it in a way that just shows that you’re passionate about something. So I will say those topics are very popular and we read about them all the time.
So if there are other things about your personality, your experiences, you can highlight, do that. But I can’t say like, don’t a hundred percent write about it. Like if you wanna write about it, it, it’s your, you, you, it’s your choice. But we’ve, we’ve read a lot of those sports essays. I’ll tell you, we, we’ve read about the sports injuries.
I kept speaking industries, injuries. We’ve read about divorces, death of grandparents. We’ve read about service trips to countries that may need more resources. And then that kind of gets into like the saviorism, which, hmm, we don’t really enjoy that either. So again, I really just want students to prioritize their experiences, you know, and I, as I mentioned earlier, particularly in the challenge.
Conversation that some students say, I’ve never had a challenge, or I’ve never had to overcome anything. Or, I grew up and I had a very privileged life, and nothing has really negatively affect affected me. And I, I really want us to think closely about that because we all have things, again, no matter how minute that have negatively affected us.
And, you know, we’re all going through the throes of life together and the world is not easy sometimes. So I also want students to think about truly their own experiences and kind of dig a little bit deeper if they can, because I do think we all have beautiful stories to tell, and it is up to us to like tell them.
So I, I never, again, I’m taking the position now where I never say, don’t write about any of these topics, ever write about what’s authentic to you, but realize that there are some topics such as like sports and injuries and divorce and death of loved ones that we see most often. So you are prerogative but wanted, you know, just wanna make sure you have all the information, information you need to write the best essay.
Yeah, I wanna, I wanna step back and, and don’t, I don’t want folks to think that all the topics you listed are all the topics they should try to avoid or not write about. Right. And feel like, like, now what do I do? But, because I think just wanting to emphasize the fact that you, if, if you are going to write it, we have probably read it.
I, myself, in one season read probably 300 first drafts from students, and that’s on the high school side, so not even on the admission side of all the different. So yes, there are a lot of essays that admissions officers, they’re reading a lot, they’re reading over and over again that people are gonna see.
So again, just wanting to reinforce, don’t feel like you can’t write about these topics, but just think about how you can write it in a way that expresses your specific and authentic story in the most thoughtful way possible. Oh, interesting. Okay. So someone asks, is it a good idea to talk about a racist event from my challenge essay?
Maybe. Yeah, I don’t know what the event is. I don’t know how you’re gonna write about it or what you wanna say about it. Are you, I don’t know what, what side you’re on of the story. Like, are you experiencing the racism? Are you enacting the right, like, I don’t have enough information to say, but maybe students do write about challenges they’ve had with like, kind of racism and, and we, you know, the isms, you know, so sexism, classism, racism, you know, I’ve read about Islamophobia, homophobia, the phobias, the isms.
We read about those things too. So there are opportunities for students to talk about that for sure. But I can’t say like, absolutely, if I don’t know what you’re talking about, the topic, the essay or anything. The topic becomes kind of moot if we don’t know how you’re gonna write about it and what you’re, what, what you’re saying about it.
So yeah, again, just going back to like writing authentically and telling a story that is true to you and not getting too caught up on is this topic in particularly. Unique or common because again, the volume that we’ve read, probably not. But it is unique to who you are in that moment. As long as you, as long as the admissions officer can get a feel of who you are, that’s what matters most, more than coming up with something they’ve never read about. To end to end, I was gonna ask, what are the most common mistakes that you’ve seen students make in writing their essays? For supplemental essays, there are a number of things.
They, they’re not specific enough. It’s too much fluff. So they’re talking about the green grass and the way the river runs. It’s just not enough. We don’t have enough time for that. They don’t, yeah, they really don’t answer their question because they’re overthinking. They they just like repeat themselves a lot, so they just like Instead of thinking like, how can I approach this question in a different way from a different perspective with a different interest?
They’re like regurgitate things they, they’ve already said in the application. So it’s very repetitive. Yeah. So it is really, they’re not specific enough. They don’t answer the question. There’s too much fluff. They repeat themselves too much. They don’t demonstrate that they’ve done any research. If the essays feel like I can write about the essay, they can say Dartmouth and then replace it with Brown and then replace it with University of Maryland or replace it with Georgetown.
So and they don’t talk about themselves enough, so sometimes they’ll, they’ll spend too much time talking about the university and not enough about themselves. So they’ll be like, I love the university has 40,000 students, and the students, and then, you know, the football field is the largest one in the country.
And, and it’s like we know that, like the people who work there know about the university. Tell us about you so, Supplemental essays need to be able to talk about the student in the alignment. So it’s one thing to say like, you know, with the campus culture with like 40,000 students, you know the university still like guarantees all the students, you know, who needed campus jobs and I’m really, I’m really interested in working on campus cuz I had a job at Jimmy John’s and I really wanna work on it, whatever.
So that’s a difference just describing the campus community and not inserting self. So sometimes students just don’t talk about themselves enough in their essays and I think that is a, a problem. So those are the, the major ones for sure. All right. Well, we will leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you so much, Aya, for all of your wisdom and tips today. Thank you. That is the end of the webinar. We hope you gained some tips and strategies for creating thoughtful, intentional supplemental essays. We also hope that you will join us for another session later this month, tomorrow April 12th.
We’ll have a session on Building Extracurricular Profiles as Sophomore and Juniors next week, April 18th, we’ll dive into Crafting Your College List with advice from a former admissions office. And we will end the month with Maximizing Your Summer to Build Your College Applications on April 24th. We hope to see you soon, but until next time, have a great evening everyone, and thanks again, Aya.