Admissions Officer Advice: Revising the Personal Statement
Former Admissions Officer Arianna explains what makes a compelling personal statement and how to edit yours to perfection.
2021-12-02 Admissions Officer Advice: Revising the Personal Statement
[00:00:00] Hi, everyone. Welcome to CollegeAdvisor’s webinar on revising your personal statement. To orient everyone with a 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 the slides and you can start submitting your questions in the Q and a tab.
Now let’s meet our panelist.
Hi everyone. My name is Ariana Pagan. I have been with CollegeAdvisor for a while now, and I’m very excited to be here tonight with you to talk about revising the personal statement, um, and answer any additional questions. You might have a little bit about my background. I have been in [00:01:00] higher education since 2016.
Specifically in the undergraduate admissions office, graduate admissions and academic advising now. Um, and I’ve worked at institutions such as Emmanuel college, Babson college, um, in Northeastern. Um, and so I have a master’s in education administration. Um, my bachelor’s is in counseling and health, and I’m also a licensed social worker in the state of Massachusetts.
So that’s a little bit about me. Um, and we can go ahead and continue on with our presentation for today. And I’ll turn it back over to Mackenzie. So to start the presentation off, we’ll just go through a quick poll. So where are you in the, uh, application process? And while we wait for these answers to come back, can you tell us a little bit about like, as from the admissions officer’s perspective, what were some, um, like really interesting or strong essays that you.
I think the best essay and it was one of the first I ever read in my [00:02:00] career. Um, and it’s stuck with me almost seven years later. Um, the student wrote about their 15 minute walk to CVS is so like the baseline of the story was nothing extravagant, but it was really interesting because she had kind of like spaced out on the walk and was like disassociating in her mind and like walking us through like what her thought process was.
And then it was like back and forth and I’ve read some really good ones about col high school athletes. Um, those are always enjoyable for me. That’s like a very mixed bag though, depending on who you talk to, but, you know, whenever you can get a student’s authentic voice and really get, you know, a personal narrative from them about what they’re about and what they’re passionate about, those always end up being the assays that stand up.
So it’s looking like, um, we have 18% of say they haven’t started. 36% are still researching schools. 18% are working on their essays. And 27% are [00:03:00] getting their application materials done and no one is almost done. So that’s a bit different. Oh, for those of you getting your application materials together, keep pushing, stay disciplined.
Um, it will all come together. I promise. All right. So moving on, uh, the personal statement, uh, plays a few roles in the college application and, uh, I think one of the. The biggest things to know is that your personal statement really sets the tone for the rest of your application. You know, we can read your transcript, we can see your GPA or test scores, but to really figure out who you are as an applicant and what you bring to the table, we look to your personal statement.
Um, and so that sets the personal narrative and it’s really the opportunity for you to highlight what you can contribute to the university, but also how your values. Align with the university’s values, [00:04:00] because what we want to see is as a student, how have you grown? What have you gotten involved in? What are your strengths?
Are you looking to branch out at the college level and try something new? Are you looking to, you know, continue on in the activities that you’ve done so far? Um, have there been any experiences that have impacted you or maybe you just have, you know, something interesting to see. And you want to voice it in this essay.
Um, and, and ultimately those are the essays and personal statements that shine through the most. You’ll hear me say essay essay and personal statement are the same. We use them interchangeably, but ultimately the personal statement is your opportunity to stand out. You know, we could have a hundred applicants with the same, GPA’s the same test scores and really what differentiates our.
You know, letters of reference for sure. But also that personal statement.[00:05:00]
The thing about the personal statement is that it’s, it’s never something you can do in one sitting. It’s really something that takes a while. And here at CollegeAdvisor, you know, we break up what the personal statement is in the sections that are completed. And so realistically your personal statement could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to really craft and perfect.
And so some of the areas that are typically needed for revision are grammar, always. Um, what I can tell you from my experience is that grammar is usually the easiest part to revise when I’m reading an application. And I see that there’s grammar mistakes or misspellings in a personal state. It’s kind of an indication that the student didn’t care enough to look over one of the easiest fixes.
Um, so that doesn’t look too good con. Um, always in need of revision, sometimes putting too little, sometimes putting too [00:06:00] much. And what I mean by that is sometimes it’s very easy to try and convey a message that you think the admissions office wants to hear. Um, and that’s we get that. We see that very often.
We don’t want you trying to put on a show for us or writing about what you think we want to hear. We want to hear about you. We want to know about you. Um, and so sometimes students will forget. To put in that personal message into the statement and really they get lost in trying to be creative and trying to be funny.
Um, and that can also hurt transitions. Uh, and by transitions, I mean, you know, from one thought to the next, do they connect, does it make sense? And you need to make sure you’re answering the prompt. Um, I’ve had a lot of students in the past. They have this really great idea for an essay and, you know, They write it and, you know, come to find out it doesn’t actually answer the question in the way they thought it did.
And so, you know, we have to revise that [00:07:00] way and overall the point or the message you’re trying to convey professionalism, your personal voice. Um, it’s really easy to write in a pretty way or write poetically, you know, not everybody is gifted in the art of writing and we recognize that. But it’s for that reason that the personal statement could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to perfect.
Um, and ultimately you want to make sure that as you’re writing, you’re answering the prompt and that you’re also saying what you need to say in a direct way. You don’t want to beat around the Bush. You don’t want to use metaphors. That don’t make sense. You really have to be direct in what you’re saying, because ultimately you have about five to seven.
To grab the admissions officer’s attention. We read up to a hundred applications a day, depending on the university. And you know, that personal statement, if it doesn’t flow, [00:08:00] if it doesn’t connect, we’ll move on very quickly. Um, so these are the areas that tend to be in most need of revision. As students are crafting a personal.
And then I, you know, it brings about the question of, well, if you know, everybody’s answering the same prompt or, you know, how do I, how do I stand out? You know, I’m not the best writer in my grade. Um, you know, I, I do worry about issues of grammar. I’ve had nothing exciting happened to me or, you know, I haven’t, um, I haven’t really had anybody review my, my personal statement.
So to, to really differentiate between the issues of the content of the essay versus the grammar, the pros, uh, these are some of the questions. I typically have students answer and think about in their writing and that the first one is, does it end with an insight or are you just telling a story? Are you just writing a story or [00:09:00] are you, is there a meaning?
Is there a message? Is there a goal to what you’re writing? Um, and usually that helps students realize, oh, I’ve just been like putting things on paper. I haven’t actually been like connecting the dots to a message. Do the stories and examples, you use demonstrate that your values and do those values match the university values.
And what I mean by that is not necessarily saying I value community service. I’ve done community service for four years. X university also values community service. So I’d be a good fit. That’s not what I’m talking about when I’m talking about. You know, growing up, I really had a passion for, you know, giving back to the people who have had an impact in my life.
And this is how I’ve done that. And, you know, researching X university, you know, these are some of the clubs I could see myself getting involved in. I’d love to start a new project. And I think that, you know, through this way, I would really be able to continue contributing to the [00:10:00] next community that I would be a part of.
It’s really getting deep and answering. How your values match the university’s values. Um, and, and next is, is it focused on me or is it too focused on another person or idea? Uh, I tragedy happens. Um, we’re not looking for a tragedy in your personal statement. We don’t want to hear about a loved one dying.
We don’t want to hear about the passing of a pet. We don’t want to hear about your friend’s cousin’s sister’s brother who got cancer, and that made you, you know, Reevaluate your life. That’s not what we’re looking for because ultimately that doesn’t tell us anything about you. Um, we want to hear about you.
It doesn’t have to be a tragedy. It doesn’t have to be sad. It doesn’t have to be extravagant or, um, you know, out, you know, something unique. Like you don’t have to have traveled the world that’s by 17 in order to have a good essay. Um, really it, [00:11:00] you know, To look at content. Sometimes it’s really helpful for students to talk to the people in their lives, who know them the best to say, you know, when you’re reading this essay, does it sound like me?
Do, do you get the point of what I’m saying? Um, and that can sometimes be helpful in ensuring that your essay is focused on. And as always, did I answer the prompt, always go back to that bar, you answering the actual question, uh, for, for your personal statement. So that’s a, that’s a way to kind of differentiate between the content of your essay versus like the grammar and the pros and the poetic weakness, um, and the writing style of your essay.
And so once you’ve identified problem in your writing, um, How do you find a solution? So these are some of the most common issues. Uh, I see with students when they’re writing their personal essay and these are the ways that we [00:12:00] redirect and have them, um, sort of rewrite, you know, so you’re telling a story without insight.
You’re just putting pen to paper, you know, adolescent about how, what, um, at a lesson learned actions that you took and how that had an impact. To tie together the lesson and tie together the moral of the story, so to speak. Um, maybe you’re writing about being such a good person or, you know, you have a real passion for, I just recently read an essay about a student who had a passion for finance, um, and you know, how Bitcoin recently became a big thing and he was really interested in it, but.
That was kind of where it ended. Like there was no, well, you’re interested in Bitcoin and finance, but how are you? Are you investing, you know, are your parents big and finance? You really have to add in some context and some backstory about the qualities that you’re claiming to have. [00:13:00] And so adding detail to those stories can really be helpful.
And if you’re somebody who writes mostly about another person or another idea, um, for some students, you know, it’s very rare, but occasionally it does come across that, um, you know, a student has, has gone through a tragedy and it’s, it’s really impacted them. Um, or they’re writing about another person. You know, you have to be able to tie in how, not only how that affected your perspective, but how has that impacting your future and what does that have to do with a university?
What does that have to do with the college you’re applying to? So really these are some of the most common solution problems and solutions that we’ve seen.
And when it comes to asking for. I think a lot of students will defer to their high school guidance counselor. Um, but I think the thing to be conscious of is that your [00:14:00] guidance counselor is reading everybody’s essay and they’re not reading. For content or, you know, your, your writing style and authenticity, they’re really more of like a grammar check and a professionalism check to your essay.
And so, you know, at CollegeAdvisor, this is really what we do that we’re, we’re experts in, you know, your personal statements and making sure you’re really solidifying that personal narrative. Um, so when it comes to the authenticity of your application, I always suggest to students go to your parents first, your parents, you know, know you best.
They know what you’re like. They’ve lived with you all your life, you know, parent or guardian, you know, ask them, Hey, read this, does this sound like me? You know, does this, you know, do I sound like myself? Do I come across authentic? You know, the people that you surround yourself with the most are going to be the people who are going to be able to give you the best feedback about authenticity.
Um, [00:15:00] And so maybe one or two friends also, um, could be helpful in that, but, um, and your parents could also be really helpful for your writing style, just in how you speak. You know, maybe they’ve read a couple of your essays over the years, um, understanding, you know, wow, this really sounds like you, like, this is, this is great.
Like keep it up. We’re saying, you know what? It actually sounds a little fake or it sounds a little, you know, um, It sounds a little too polished. You know, you’re using big words that you don’t use on a daily basis and you’re using, you know, synonyms for words that we’ve never heard you use before. Um, so you really want to make sure whether it’s a guidance counselor, uh, somebody here at CollegeAdvisor, your parent, your friend, ultimately, you want to make sure that the same message is coming across through your essay from.
If your parents are reading your essay and they’re saying, wow, you know, we really got the message from this. And your friends are saying they got a [00:16:00] different message. That might be a sign that it’s time to revisit the actual content and rewrite and revisit that, um, to make sure that the same message comes through.
And the reason that’s important is because sometimes you don’t know who’s going to be reading your application. So, if you can get a similar message across the board from the people in your life, then it kind of gives you the peace of mind of knowing that this message is going to be conveyed consistently in the admissions office.
And that you can be confident that you’ve written the solid essay. Okay.
Okay, so we’re going to do another quick poll. So have you completed your personal statement? Yes. And I’m confident in it? Yes, but I think I need to make some edits or revisions. No, I’m still drafting it or no, I haven’t started it at all. And, uh, on that note, uh, with the asking your counselor, I asked my English teacher because of the.
I was really cool with [00:17:00] him. Um, when I was in, uh, when I was writing my personal statement and he gave me like, he wasn’t being mean, but he pretty much said my personal statement had nothing to do with me at all, based on how he knew me. And because I wrote it about like, Being the white girl of my friend group and like the connotation, he understood it, but he pointed out how somebody else would probably not get the nuance of it.
And so, um, I was just like, yeah, that’s probably right. So I ended up rewriting it and my dad was the one that helped me to come up with my new topic, um, based on like conversations that we would have all the time. And he like pointed out like, oh, you’re always talking about, uh, access to education. Why don’t you write about.
And it is looking like, um, okay. We’re still getting, uh, stuff in. Uh, so no, because it is really hard. And I think this is, uh, you [00:18:00] know, uh, what, what any students here, what I want you to understand is that from an admissions perspective, we understand how hard it is. This part of the essay, you know, you can take the, you can study for the SATs.
You can study for your exams. You can, you know, get involved, but taking time to, and a lot of time to sit and write something that is supposed to speak to who you are. We recognize that’s intimidating. We recognize it’s a hard, you know, we recognize it’s hard. And so to say, you know what makes a good essay in Nevada essay?
Isn’t really a solid question. Because it’s personal and it really comes down to not whether your essay is good or bad, but whether you can answer the question in a way that is authentic to who you are and can relate to the university. So it’s looking like we have 25% say yes, they’ve completed it, but they want to make [00:19:00] revisions.
They’re 10% are saying that they’re still drafting and 63% say they haven’t stopped. Alright, mixed bag. That’s good. That’s good. It’s a good to know. And for those of you who haven’t started yet, hopefully you can get some insight from this presentation. And if you have questions at the end about anything, feel free to ask.
So in terms of additional resources, um, the first one I always recommend to students is obviously CollegeAdvisor. Um, I have worked with CollegeAdvisor for a very long. And, you know, we do have our own internal essay review team in addition to your CollegeAdvisor. Um, so you really have an entire, you have somebody whose work will have worked with you for up to a year.
They know you very well. In addition to an essay review team of other professionals who have also worked in admissions, you know, there that’s a really great resource [00:20:00] and honestly, It really gives students a competitive edge in the admissions office. Um, so that’s always something I tell anybody in my life.
Um, but also YouTube is a great resource, you know, especially for students who are looking for free resources. YouTube is great. There are a lot of professors, um, and a lot of admissions officers and even just Ivy league students as well, who, you know, serve as tutors and who have experience in this field as well in some capacity.
And so really just going on YouTube and searching, you know, crafting your college essay or how to write a college essay, where to start is a really great resource. Um, I have, uh, a few students who tell me they are students of YouTube university. So they always recommend you do as well. And then John Hopkins actually has a really solid website of sample essays that they’ve received in the past.
So if you Google, um, John [00:21:00] Hopkins essays that works it’s the first or second link actually brings you to the John Hopkins website. And you can read some of the sample essays that students have submitted, just to get an idea of what creativity. Um, and get an idea of what a unique essay is. And, you know, also understand a personal narrative.
You know, you can read some of these essays and really get a sense of who the student is without having met them. And that is the whole point of the personal essay. Um, so those are some resources we always, um, we always give out to students,
some common mistakes, uh, ICM, personal stuff. Um, they, they don’t answer the prompt. And the reason that the prompt is there is because we, first of all, it’s supposed to be a guiding force for you. It’s supposed to guide you to. Right. Um, but also from an admissions [00:22:00] perspective, you know, we read a lot of, we read a lot of things, but, um, being able to have a prompt to know, okay, this is what I am expecting for an answer I’m expecting to hear about an experience of X, Y, Z.
And you read it. So if you’re not answering the prompt, you’ve already started off on a bad foot because the admissions officer isn’t going to be engaged and they’re not going to get a real sense of what you’re talking about or what you mean. Um, and there’s no narrative, it’s just a story. Um, it’s, you know, for example, if you’re an athlete, right, and you’re writing about scoring your first goal as an athlete in whatever.
That’s a great story, but the narrative to that story. Would be, I was extremely nervous and I wasn’t even supposed to start that night. So it, I was very unexpectedly nervous. Um, but being a part of a team really showed me how I can rely [00:23:00] on others. And I couldn’t have scored that goal if I hadn’t worked so hard in practice, if I hadn’t trusted my teammates.
And from this experience, I learned that through teamwork and. Putting my trust in other people as well, and, you know, asking for help when I need it was how I could score the goal. So that’s, that’s the narrative to the story. Um, so that’s what you want. You don’t just want to write a story. Um, not spellcheck again, that’s one of the easiest things to fix.
So, you know, double, triple, quadruple, check that. And then trying to be funny, please do not try to be funny. Um, it does not. It doesn’t. It does not work. The reason I say that is because you don’t know the personality of the person who is reading your essay. Um, and we don’t have a lot of time. So, you know, sometimes you’re, it comes across as awkward.
Sometimes it can come across as sarcastic, both characteristics. You don’t want [00:24:00] associated with your personal statement. Um, don’t try to be funny. Just be. Um, and then also being disingenuous writing about how you’ve always wanted to go to Harvard is pretty disingenuous. There are a lot of people who have always felt that way.
Why are you special? You know, um, you want to make sure you’re staying true to what you know, and what you want to accomplish and how your values again, are comparable to the university values
on the flip side. What makes a great personal statement, in my opinion, are the students who have a purpose to their writing. Um, and there’s a point to the narrative. You know, it really flows. I could start at the first sentence and stay engaged. There’s no point where I’m saying, wait a minute, what, what does this mean?
Or did I miss something there? This doesn’t connect in a way. Um, it flows, it also [00:25:00] highlights, you know, The student’s talents in areas of growth. Maybe you started off high school. Uh, I read a really great essay about a student who was bullied their freshman year, um, and really, you know, consider taking their own life.
And, you know, they had a coach at the school who knew their family. And so they reached out to the family and long story short, the student found a way to. And over the course of four years, he started weightlifting and documented how mentally he became stronger while he physically became stronger. And it was like, it was authentic.
It was creative. Um, and it showcased his areas of growth mentally, physically. And how, you know, Moving along in his college career, that was why he wanted to study kinesthesiology because he loved the body. He loved physiology. He loved all those aspects. Um, so it’s creative, it’s authentic. Um, and [00:26:00] it shows that, you know, the student isn’t trying to write something that they think we want to hear.
They’re just writing about themselves. And those are always the essays that stand out.
So again, I previously mentioned that the personal statement really serves as the center and the heart of your application. Um, it sets the tone for the narrative of who you are, your growth over four years, what you can contribute to the university, not just academic preparation, but you know, personally, um, as well to join the.
And so, you know, you really want to make sure that whatever it is you’re writing about is contributing to the holistic profile that you’re putting forth. Um, so you’re, if you have been in, you know, a student government for three. And, you know, maybe you were able to [00:27:00] pull off an event that nobody thought you would be able to, and that’s what you’re writing about.
And we can see, oh, well, this student has been involved in student government for a while. So it’s great to see how in their junior year they were able to advance or take on a leadership. Um, and it’s your, your personal statement is an opportunity again, to expand on those interests and why they’re important to you.
Like, tell me why this matters to you. Um, that that really is a really great way to set the tone, like conveying why something matters to you can really show. Not just your values, but also how it’s connected to your entire academic profile and can compliment other areas of your application, such as your letters of reference or, um, you know, maybe you’ve taken additional music classes because you’ve been in band for four years.
And so any elective has been a music class. Those are great things to know. Um, so those are some ways that your application, [00:28:00] uh, your personal statement can contribute to the holistic profile of your applicant.
Uh, I get asked this quite a bit. The, and again, this is my opinion, this differs, um, depending on the admissions office you talk to, but I’ve, I’ve worked at a few universities at this point. Um, some are liberal arts, some top 30. And what I would say has been pretty consistent in my mind as the most important aspect of your application.
Is your academic rigor and performance. So not your GPA, not your test scores, but really have you, you know, taken APS and IVs and honors classes. Have you challenged yourself throughout this curriculum? Um, throughout your three and a half? Or have you just been in standard college prep, maybe you haven’t taken any APS or IVs, but you’ve gotten all A’s [00:29:00] and you know, outside of school you’re working to help provide for your family, or, you know, I had a student who their profile, they didn’t have any APS, any honors, you know, very limited involvement in high school, but outside of high school, they actually were able to get escape park, uh, implemented in their committee.
And he was running this entire like skateboarding club outside and getting people to donate skateboards and, you know, running events. And that was so cool. So, but at the same time, you’re also seeing he might not be taking APS or honors. You know, consistently maintained all A’s and that’s also impressive.
Um, so definitely number one, your academic rigor and performance and academic growth over three and a half, four years, then it’s your personal statement. Um, after that, any interviews that you can do are also going to contribute to that personal narrative. [00:30:00] So if the university you’re applying to offers, interviews could be with an alum, could be with an admissions officer.
I always highly recommend interviews to students as well, just to continuously build that personal connection. Um, and then lastly would be your extracurricular activities. Um, there’s a lot of extracurriculars out there and I’ve seen some really interesting ones. Um, so those are always interesting to read about and, and get a sense of what the student is passionate about, uh, or has been passionate about in their high school.
And just some last pieces of advice, um, when, whether you’ve started your personal statement or haven’t started, or you’re almost done, you’re in the final revisions, don’t overthink it. Um, please don’t overthink it and always defer back to these following questions. Does it end with an insight or does it just tell a story?[00:31:00]
Are you using stories and examples to demonstrate your values? Or are you just writing about them and how do these values match the university’s values and to find the university’s values? There’s a few ways you can do that. Number one, usually if you go to an open house or an information session, they’ll tell you it’s like the first or second slide is like the mission.
And the passion projects of the universities and institutional goals, um, or you could just research online, you know, the university or college you’re interested in and see what their values and institutional goals are. Um, and, you know, base what you’re writing around those. Um, and always asking, is the essay focused on you or is it too focused on another person or another idea?
And then lastly, always, always, please make sure you are answering. The prompt. It’s really easy to like have a good story and then just like slip away and get caught up in writing [00:32:00] that you end up not answering the prompt. Um, so those would be some last pieces of advice that I would give to students as they’re writing their personal.
Okay, so that is the end of the presentation part of the webinar. I hope you found this information helpful and remember that you can download the slides from the link in the handouts tab, moving on to live Q and a I’ll read through your questions. You submitted in the Q and a tab and read them a lot before our panelists gives you an answer as a heads up.
If your Q and a tab, isn’t letting you submit questions, just making. Sure, um, that you joined the webinar through the custom link sent to your email and not from the webinar landing page on the website, because if you join through the webinar landing page, you don’t get all the features that big marker.
So, um, we can just get started. So I’m just going to do a quick question first. Um, should, uh, should students mention a specific school in their personal statement? You can. Um, I think specifically when [00:33:00] you get into top 30 and really Ivy league schools mentioning the school’s name is always a good idea.
However, if you are not somebody who is detail oriented, um, I have read applications, I’ve read applications that are like, you know, and this is why I think I would be a great fit at Northwest. And I’m like, that’s a different university. So if you’re not somebody who’s detailed oriented and are going to actively change the name of the college with where you’re submitting the essay, then don’t.
And on the act. Well, at least from the common app platform, it’s your personal statement gets sent to all the schools that you have in your list, but you send to your schools individually when you click to submit the school’s individual application, it makes more sense when you’re actually looking on it.
[00:34:00] But. Pretty much. If you want it to send the same essay and change the name you would click send for your first school, go back and change the name, click send for the next school after you’ve changed the name and keep doing that. Um, so yeah. Uh, okay. So next question. Uh, when you say answer the prompt, does that mean that every college needs a different personal essay?
Okay. No. Um, when I say answer the prompt, so, uh, in the common application specifically, Um, there are, you know, seven or eight different prompts, uh, questions to answer. So typically students will pick one of those seven or eight prompts and write their personal statement. So when I say answer the prompt, do you want to, what I mean?
Is that personal statement that goes out to every college? It’s just one, whatever question you choose, make sure you answer.[00:35:00]
Okay, so I’m going to do another quick poll just to get an idea of that age of the audience. I think that might help a bit. So, uh, what grade are you currently in? 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 or other. And that could be like, if you’re a parent or a transfer.
And, but while we wait for that, um, so you talked about, um, like having your own voice in the essay, how can, uh, how can you maintain your voice in the essay when revising or trying to remain professional? I think it’s really important to ask yourself, am I, what am I trying to say here? Um, so as you make revisions, it’s really important to reread and say, okay, What am I trying to say here?
Cause sometimes you write because you think, oh, well this will sound better. This will, this will make the essay flow better. And then when you read it altogether, if it makes sense, then that’s great. But [00:36:00] sometimes it’s important to ask yourself, am I, is this, is this what I mean to say? And then asking somebody to look at those revisions, um, specifically somebody close to you like a parent or a friend, um, or your CollegeAdvisor.
If you. To see if they’re also getting that personal narrative still, as you’re making revisions, the way I’ve always said it to my clients is talking about something that you’re passionate about or that matters to you talking about something that you actually care about that maybe you usually talk about, or you usually think about if you don’t really say it out loud, um, something that you would have a lot to say about, and not just something you’re trying to think of to like impress somebody else.
Absolutely. And it’s looking like we have, um, 10% are 10th graders, 60% are 11th graders, 20%, our 12th graders and a 10% is other. Um, so that may explain why some people haven’t [00:37:00] started yet. That that makes more sense. Okay. So going onto the next question. Um, okay. So, um, Again, with talking about voice. Um, what does a person’s voice look like in written form?
Is it more related to the style or to the content or, uh, any other like indicators? That’s a great question. So it’s really, uh, it’s really determined by the content. Um, some students are just naturally gifted writers and they just naturally have a very poetic and, and narrative. When they’re writing. Um, but that’s not the case for most students.
And so because of that, you really want to make sure that the content that you’re writing about. Rich and information, not just about you, but also context of what you’re writing about context of your values, proof of the qualities you’re claiming you have, um, [00:38:00] and explaining how, you know, if you’re writing about an event or experience how that’s impacted you and how you’ve used that moving forward.
Um, and so that the content is really the best way to continue that narrative. One thing about voice that I’ve noticed is like the difference with like active voice and passive voice. A lot of students that I’ve worked with tend to speak with passive voice, and that’s sorta like the usual kind of like humble speak and it adds more words than are needed, especially with this limited word count.
And an example of that would be, um, saying I would like to study. Jesus biology, because it would help me become a scientist. Whereas with active voice, you can just say, and this can cut a lot of words in it sounds stronger. Just say studying biology will help me become a great scientist. It gets to the point and you sound more confident when you’re speaking.
So if you’re like in the process of revising your essays, that’s something to look out for, [00:39:00] especially sentences that really matter, like, um, sentences about like what you want to do or the impact you want to have, or the sentences that you really feel like if it were a one-liner that’s where the mic would drop.
Those definitely need to be more active voice than passive voice actually. And the more direct you can be in your writing the better, um, because again, you only have five to seven minutes to kill. That admissions officer’s attention. And so if you can be direct in your writing and upfront in your writing, it makes it a lot easier to read your essay.
Um, and it also just makes it more enjoyable for us to get to know you through this personal. So there was one student asking a kind of niche question about, um, international schools. I mean, international students applying, but I’m going to tweak it just a bit, but, uh, considering that you mentioned like grammar and voice, how can someone that isn’t like English isn’t their native language?
How can they still [00:40:00] portray a good message in the personal statement? Is that something that you’ve noticed is that something in the admissions office they like, look and see like, okay, this is the international school. Yes. So international students do need to be very careful in their writing, especially because, um, if you haven’t attended a U S institution for four years, if you haven’t attended high school in the U S for four years now, nine out of 10 times they’ll require the TOEFL, which is the English language proficiency exam.
And so, you know, for those students who need that exam, we look at your personal essay a lot more. Um, so to really make sure that it can be perfect and as grammatically correct as possible, ask anybody in your life who is a really good English speaker. Maybe it’s an English teacher. Um, maybe it’s the principal of your school.
Maybe it’s, you know, a librarian, but asking anybody in your life who really has that solid foundation in English to review it. [00:41:00] Um, also, you can always spell check, um, in word that’s a great resource also. Um, so, and, you know, also read some other application, other applications, read some other essays online, like the John Hopkins, um, essays that worked to understand just, you know, what the flow is like and you know how to create a narrative in English.
Um, those would be, those would be some of the pieces of advice that. One of my clients that I just got is, um, she is from Brazil. So English isn’t her first language though. She has been studying it for years. And when I was reading through her essay, she’s a great writer. Like she’s a strong writer and she’s very poetic and.
She had a lot to say, um, it was just like certain words had like a different connotation than what she was trying to say. And me knowing like the different words and stuff I could go through and like, see like, okay, I get what you were saying here, but in [00:42:00] English, that’s not exactly what that translates to.
So it would, um, having someone that is, uh, proficient in English would be good. Um, just because they can see like, okay, I get what you’re coming from, but. It doesn’t have the same meeting or it doesn’t translate the same way. And I mean, even joining CollegeAdvisor is a great, is a great way to do that as well.
If you’re an international student who, you know, English, isn’t your first language, you know, join CollegeAdvisor and we’re more than happy to work with you and really help you. Perfect. Not just that narrative, but that writing as well. So, um, okay. This is another question. Um, what are some cliche topics that you’ve seen?
And if a student does have a cliche topic or it’s something that is meaningful to them, but it would still be considered cliche, how can they make it unique to them? Sure. So I think the most, um, cliche I writing [00:43:00] I’ve seen is, are students talking about their parents? Um, while it is tragic, um, we don’t care.
Um, and that, that sounds harsh, but like, that’s why you came, you wanted this insider information. Like we don’t, it, it doesn’t really tell us anything about you. It’s just a tragic. Um, it truly is sad, but we want to know who you are as a student. We want to know how you’ve grown, how you’ve progressed. Um, I there’ve been a few admissions cycles where in a day, if I have to read a hundred applications, like 30 of them are students talking about their divorce parents.
Um, you know, another one that. Could be hit or miss, but it is very common. Is athletes talking about an athletic event? Um, there, I have many colleagues who consider those to be cliche, but what we’ve noticed is that the students who can write, you know, the narrative as I had previously [00:44:00] mentioned, who can write about that narrative of the event and not just tell the story, those are the, you know, sports or athletic essays that.
The best they come across. Very, very clear and personal. Another cliche, one, I would say is students writing about, um, an extra curricular that they’re no longer involved. So, you know, students will re you know, you have a really long or really solid list of extracurriculars. You know, things you’ve been involved in for three or four years, maybe things you’ve been involved in since middle school, elementary school, outside of your high school activities.
Um, and then you’re writing about how you weren’t in band for ninth grade and decided that wasn’t for you. It doesn’t really tell us that much about you, except that you didn’t stick with it. And so it’s no longer relevant, [00:45:00] you know, you really have to be a really good writer to connect that to something.
Um, those, those tend to be some of the most, um, the most common and now more than ever, we’re getting a lot of essays about COVID. Um, while COVID is tragic, it really is. It’s impacting. Everybody, um, in some way or another writing your essay about COVID Kent has become the norm, but it should, if you’re going to do it, it has to be written in a way that is constructive.
So for example, I’ve read, uh, uh, an essay of, uh, a student who, you know, was impacted by COVID. But what she realized through the pandemic was how food insecure. Her surrounding communities were specifically, um, you know, her fellow students. And it was an eyeopening event to, you know, socioeconomic status for her and privilege.
And, you know, also just the [00:46:00] political and human rights climate that, that she was in and how she took a stand and she started protesting and she started working with local vendors to try and get food to, you know, her neighbors. Community, um, in that way, if you’re writing about COVID in a way where you’ve done something you’ve given back, you’ve made it constructive, then it’s not cliche, but if you’re just like, COVID exposed how addicted I am to my phone, or like it’s tragic.
I didn’t, I didn’t get to see my friends online school is hard. Um, so I’m really excited to go to college. Okay. Thank you. Next essay. So those, those are some of the mostly. Yes. And on that note, don’t try and do a service project for the pier sake of getting into college. Do you want to do that? That is a big thing.
Don’t try and like game the system with some project, actually care about what you’re doing. A hundred percent please care. [00:47:00] Uh, so real quick, um, once work one-on-one with an advisor from our team of over 155 advisors and admissions officers sign up for a free consultation with us, but I’m clicking the green shot, but in the bottom right of the screen.
From there, just write in consultation and a live team member will get back to you to help coordinate your free consultation with us. Now, back to the Q and a, and, um, before that also, um, CollegeAdvisor is just really good at offering advisers for one thing, but also through the essay writing process.
One of the more difficult ones and working with an advisor to have extra eyes on your essay can really help to like tweak or even brainstorm. One thing that I really enjoy doing with my clients. The brainstorming aspect of, um, the essay process, because a lot of people just don’t know what they want to say about themselves.
So I really just like taking the time to have a sit down with my clients and like going back and forth, just getting [00:48:00] to know them, figuring out what their interests are, what they like to do. Important to them and then figuring out what can you, how can you take that and say something about it? How can you make that relate to your interest in college?
Or just give the admissions officers something about you? And, um, yeah, so that was my two sites, but, um, going back to the Q and a, um, okay. Uh, so if you have any other like, um, Ideas or, uh, advice that you want to give to students or anything else that you’ve seen that’s either good or bad do’s or don’ts?
I think the important thing that students should take away at it, especially since, uh, it seems like the majority of our audience hasn’t started yet. Um, one piece of advice I always give to the students I work with. To start keeping a journal. Um, and it doesn’t have to be a writing [00:49:00] journal. It could be just like a daily tick talk.
Um, it could just be like a quick 32nd video that you recorded on your phone. It could be a voicemail, but the reason behind that is because when it comes time to start brainstorming for your essay, you now have this collection of journaling of things that have happened in your day. So it doesn’t have to be like, you know, I got up and I brushed my teeth and.
School was really hard today. It really could just be like a 10, 15, second thing of, you know, what I thought about today is, you know, how, um, you know, cold brew is brewed cold, but ice coffee isn’t brewed on ice. You know, just like random thought. I dunno, just like random thoughts because sometimes those random thoughts are just those random things that happen to you throughout the day can be a starting point for a really great essay.
Um, so. You know, something, I always advise to students who haven’t started yet is just start journaling, keeping track of [00:50:00] the things that happened to you during your day that are interesting, um, or random thoughts that you have, because you can always go back to that. And it’s a lot easier than saying, well, I have nowhere to start.
I don’t, I don’t know what to do. Um, and I would also say don’t. For the students who are pulling together their materials now, and, you know, finalizing, you you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, but don’t compare yourself to where other people are in the process. Um, you’ll, you’ll what you’ll start to feel and see, and hear as you go through this process is, oh, well, so-and-so’s daughter is going to this university and you know, oh, I’ve already written my essay, you know, have you started supplemental essays?
You know, oh, I did my essay three months ago and you know, actually I’m doing tours at this time. Focus on yourself. Everybody is going to be at a different pace because this is a really personal journey. This is, you know, really the first time for many students to take [00:51:00] control over their academics, um, and control over their next experience academically and personally.
So, you know, focus on yourself, focus on where you are and don’t compare. To your friends where your family is saying your friends and family are, are going, I’m really focused on yourself. And that will also help keep you disciplined in writing and preparing your routine. And going back to the point, you said about like having different people read over your essays.
I think that’s something that I really saw helped with my journey, but also with my clients, because even like the students that I was working with for months and months and months to get them to a certain way, they had someone from the essay review team look over it, and that person has. Uh, different points, still keeping the same voice and message, but they had a different view.
And some of the things that I thought were really clear, they were still kind of like, I’m not sure about this and what I thought about it. I had been working for months with this person, so I knew them by this [00:52:00] point. So, um, I might’ve just been able to gloss over some of the things that weren’t explained as well as they could have.
Um, but somebody that doesn’t know them they’ll, especially they admissions officers may not have gotten the point. Um, so it is good to have, um, different eyes on your paper giving, um, different thoughts, but also know not to have a million people giving their opinions on your essays. Cause that can just make it go all over the place.
And it won’t sound like you anymore after a certain. Yes, there is nothing worse than thinking. You’ve got a really solid essay, a really solid statement, and then giving it to somebody, you know, just random being like, Hey, you want to read my essay? And they don’t get the message it’s completely off track because then at that point, panic starts to set in anxiety, starts to set in that you’re you start questioning yourself.
Um, and that’s, we don’t want that. It’s great to have. You can revise until you’re blue in the face. Truly. There’s always something you can [00:53:00] continue to work on. Um, but I always tell students, your essay will never be perfect, but if it’s authentic and if it answers the prompt and if you can, you know, create that narrative, then you’ve done the best that you absolutely.
Um, another thing that I’ve noticed with students is, um, either being too vague and, or having just a list of different things in their stories that isn’t really focused on any one thing which causes it to then be made. So I’d say definitely in the brainstorming phase with the first draft that’s so K that’s actually good, especially if it’s like just the list of random things that have happened in your life, or like your.
And one essay, just trying to get something on the page. But after that, I’d say, go back and highlight through where one story may start and stop and start and stop and see which ones are, which ideas or which events in your life or moments, um, were most important that you can continue to explore. More in [00:54:00] depth and stick with that for your story, because just having a list of your life story, isn’t a good personal statement, just because in the limited word count, you can’t really explain all those different events well enough for it to be interesting or have a point.
Um, and then also it can just seem. An extended version of your activities list sometimes too. And they don’t really want that. They want to understand a bit more than just a list of the different things that you’ve done. It. Absolutely. Yeah. That’s a hundred percent correct. And you know, I always tell students not to overthink it.
Um, and, and to really break up the work, you know, write one paragraph and then just sit on that, like, think about that paragraph, you know, Reflect on it, reread it. Like, does it make sense? Does it answer the prompt? Is it a good intro? You know, and then slowly move on. Like, don’t try to write this in one setting.
So, [00:55:00] you know, you really gotta break it up and think about it and reflect on it because when you can reflect on it, that’s also how you can go building that narrative little by little. Uh, so we have five more minutes left. So if there’s any last minute advice or tips or examples that you want to give, please feel free.
Okay. I think I have said all I can. If any students have questions, I highly recommend signing up for that free consultation with CollegeAdvisor. Um, It’s definitely worth it. Um, and thank you guys so much for joining us tonight. Yes. So that is the end of the webinar. I hope you guys enjoyed, um, uh, the information and really got a lot from it.
And thank you everyone for coming out and thank you to our panelists, Ariana. So here’s the rest of our December series, which is about increasing your. Admissions odds. Uh, and we had other webinars on essay [00:56:00] editing and revising and also brainstorming personal statements or topics. And then, uh, along with our advisors who can help you do that.
And, uh, even, um, first our underclassmen on this Sunday, I am doing a webinar on. Um, what, uh, sophomores and juniors should be doing, um, to prepare for their admissions process. And I do talk a bit about, um, coming up with your personal statement and what that should look like and how to get ahead on that.
So if you want that information, please join. Uh, and then we also have our, um, blog where we have different essay guides and. Uh, plethora of other resources, um, on the website and, uh, if you join college advisers. So thank you again. Thank you everyone for coming out and good night.