AO Advice: What Makes a Strong College Application

Are you a high school student preparing to apply to college? Are you a parent eager to support your child in their college admissions journey? Look no further! Join for “AO Advice: What Makes a Strong College Application,” designed specifically for high school students and their parents.

In this webinar, our experienced college admissions expert Chelsea Holley will provide valuable insights and guidance on crafting a compelling college application that stands out from the competition. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of what admissions officers are looking for and discover proven strategies to make your application shine.

Key Learnings:

  • Navigating the application process: Gain insights into the different components of a college application, such as the Common Application, supplemental essays, and application deadlines. Learn valuable tips for staying organized and meeting important milestones.
  • Understanding holistic admissions: Explore the concept of holistic admissions and how colleges consider various factors beyond grades and test scores. Discover how to create a comprehensive and well-rounded application that showcases your strengths in multiple areas.
  • The importance of a strong personal statement: Learn how to write a captivating personal statement that showcases your unique qualities, experiences, and aspirations. Understand what admissions officers are seeking and how to effectively convey your story.
  • Highlighting academic achievements: Discover how to effectively present your academic accomplishments, including GPA, standardized test scores, and course selection. Learn how to emphasize your strengths and overcome any potential weaknesses.
  • Showcasing extracurricular activities: Understand the significance of extracurricular involvement and learn how to highlight your activities, leadership roles, community service, and achievements. Get tips on selecting and presenting the most impactful experiences.
  • Maximizing letters of recommendation: Learn how to choose the right recommenders and communicate effectively with them. Discover what makes a strong letter of recommendation and how it can reinforce your overall application.

Whether you’re just beginning the college application process or looking to fine-tune your existing application, this webinar will equip you with the knowledge and tools to create a strong, compelling application. Don’t miss this opportunity to gain valuable insights from admissions experts and increase your chances of getting accepted into your dream college.

Join us for “AO Advice: What Makes a Strong College Application” and embark on your journey to college success!

Date 07/27/2023
Duration 1:01:47

Webinar Transcription

2023-07-27 – AO Advice: What Makes a Strong College Application

Hi everyone. My name is Joseph Recupero and I am your moderator for this evening. Welcome to “AO Advice: What Makes a Strong College Application.” Just to get everyone oriented with the webinar timing. We’ll start off with a presentation, then answer your questions in a live Q&A on the sidebar. You can download our slides and you can start submitting questions in the Q&A tab, and we will answer them in the Q&A session.

Uh, but without further ado, let’s go ahead and meet our panelists. Thanks Joseph. Um, hello everyone. My name is Chelsea Holley, and I serve as an admissions officer here at CollegeAdvisor. Um, I have a little over 12 years of experience in selective college admissions, um, at large state flagships, um, small privates, liberal arts colleges, women’s colleges, HBCUs. Um, so my, uh, advice tonight, um, will be very general in hopes that you can apply it to whatever institution you are interested in.

Joseph, you’re on mute. Sorry about that. Thank you very much. Um, I am gonna, we’re gonna start tonight with a little poll just to see where everyone is, um, grade-wise. So let us know if you’re in eighth grade, ninth grade, 10th grade, 11th grade, or other for the parents or guardians in the room. We’re gonna go ahead and start that polling now.

Uh, but Chelsea, while we’re polling, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what it means to be an admissions officer? Yeah, absolutely. Um, so, uh, admissions officers, um, sometimes called admissions counselors, um, are the, the front facing, um, contacts for any admissions office. Um, so they’re the people that show up at your college fairs.

They’re the people that show up, um, at your, uh, recruitment events at your high school. Um, but there are also folks that are reviewing your application when it is time to apply. Um, so here at CollegeAdvisor we have a number of former admissions officers, um, that help you craft your application. Um, and we’re kind of keeping an eye out for the things that admissions committees are looking for so that we can advise you on how to submit the best application.

Fantastic. So we’re gonna go ahead and close our poll. It looks like we have a majority of 12th graders, um, who are joining us today. A handful of juniors as well as some 10th graders and some ninth graders. Um, then it looks like a couple others for parents or guardians. So it looks like we’ve got a, a good group, um, for you this evening.

Very good. Um, so this will be most timely for our senior students, but it is never too early to start thinking about putting together that application. So we will go ahead and get started. Um, so let’s talk first about what components make up the college application. And again, this will be very general.

Um, however, most selective admissions offices are going to ask for, at minimum what you see here. Some might ask for something in addition, I’ll give you some examples of what that might be. Um, first, uh, a personal statement. So if you apply through the common application, um, they call this your personal essay, um, and you have a number of prompts that you’re able to choose from.

Um, supplemental essays are typically prompts that the admissions office sets each year, and they are specific to the school. So think of personal statement as something you would send to all of the colleges you’re interested in. And supplemental essays would be for each specific school, um, a list of extracurricular activities or a resume, um, extracurriculars in the sphere of college admissions means everything from a varsity sport to a club at your high school to working a part-time job or being a caretaker.

It is literally everything you did outside of the classroom. Um, next standardized test scores may be a part of your college application. Many schools are currently test optional, um, and it looks as though many might stay that way. Um, so it’s super important to check the test optional policy for your individual schools.

Um, but this is a common, uh, requirement for an application. Um, next is your academic coursework or your transcript. Um, and so this is definitely one of the first roadmaps that admissions officers use to evaluate you. Um, having your high school transcript is incredibly important. Um, and then last letters of recommendation.

Most schools will ask for one or two letters of recommendation. These typically will come either from your high school counselor, if you have a relationship with them, um, or from teachers. Um, it could be a coach, um, the advisor of a club you participated in. Um, you want your letters of recommendation to come from someone who knows you, either in an academic setting or a leadership setting.

Um, so these are the basic elements of a college application, and we’ll talk a little bit more about each of these in detail.

Um, so let’s talk about the application timeline. I saw that there are many seniors on the call. Um, I cannot believe that students have started to go back to school at the end of this month and many more in August. Um, so congratulations on making it to your senior year. If you have already started. Um, the college application process is starting right now.

Um, so most college applications will start, uh, accepting applications in August. If you are applying to schools on the common app, the common app launches on August 1st, which is just a few days from now. Um, so at bare minimum you can create an account. Um, you can start adding the schools that you want to apply to, and you can see their essays as early as Tuesday of next week.

Um, after the application opens, there is typically a period of time, um, where students are able to submit applications, know that schools typically have multiple deadlines. Um, we have lots of resources, um, on the CollegeAdvisor blog about what those different plans are. Um, but in short you have earlier deadlines and then you have later deadlines often referred re uh, referred to as regular decision.

Um, so for the application deadline there as early as October 15th is probably the earliest one I’ve seen. Um, and typically that regular decision deadline does not go past the end of February, so that is the chunk of time in which you’re expected to actually submit your application and all of your supporting materials.

Um, decision notification, um, can come as early as November, especially if you’re in some of those early plans that had deadlines in October. Um, but decisions can also come as late as April. Um, it is advantageous to get your decision as early as possible, and you may not always have full control over that, but some of the early plans that you apply to can set you up to get a decision earlier during this, this range.

Um, and frankly, whether it is a positive decision or a negative decision, it is helpful for you to know that earlier in the senior year. Then later. Because what happens is come May 1st, you must commit to a college. Um, so most schools, this is your deadline to tell them whether you want to enroll. Um, and so if you don’t receive a decision until April, that window of time you have to compare financial aid offers.

Visit campus, um, get shorter and shorter. So this is a typical application timeline starts in August, the final decision making ends in May. Um, so we are about to get into application season.

So what parts of the application carry the most weight? Um, this is one of those questions where people in my industry say that it depends. Um, so I’ll, I’ll try to break down what role each of these elements play. Um, but I want you to know it is typically, um, Admissions officers aren’t gonna tell you that, um, your supplemental essays are gonna be more important than your letters of recommendation because we are looking from a holistic lens.

So the combination of these things, um, is what is going to be helpful. But if I did have to rank these, I have done that here, um, from the most weight to the least. And I will talk about my reasoning for this ranking. The first one is academic coursework. So the admissions office for students, um, we’re there to educate you, to give you tours of campus to make you feel really great about the college.

Um, but from an institutional perspective, admissions officers are tasked with admitting and enrolling students that are going to do well on campus, academically and socially. Um, and so looking at the high school transcript is one of the best indicators we have to see that a student will actually do well on campus and can keep up with the rigor of the institution.

Um, and so for that reason, I will say your academic coursework, um, will likely be. The most important element of your application, no matter where you apply now, the more selective the institution. Um, everyone has great grades, right? Um, and so all of these other elements that we’ll talk about are things that can set you apart if you are in an application pool where everyone is impressive on paper, academically.

Um, the second piece is extracurriculars. Um, I think this is important because again, this is everything that you did outside of the classroom. Um, this shows admissions committees, what you’re passionate about, what you’re interested in, um, if you have pursued leadership opportunities. Um, all of that is in a carefully crafted activities list.

This can be incredibly important to your final decision. Um, especially if you are applying to a college that has a focus on service, um, that is looking for students who have had extensive leadership experience. Um, those extracurriculars can be very important. Next is your personal statement. Um, your personal statement is one of the few elements of the application that allow you to speak directly to the people that are making this decision.

Um, it allows you to expand on things, on your activity lists. Um, it allows you to talk more about your academic interest. Um, and so the personal statement is exactly, um, what it sounds like it is personal. This is your way to, um, get to know the admissions committee through an essay, so that can be incredibly important in your final decision.

Supplemental essays. Again, these are those college specific essays. Um, what this tells you is what the admissions committee wants to know. Um, so a very common supplemental essay is why this school? So why are you applying to Duke? Why are you applying to Georgia Tech? Why are you applying to Harvard? Um, and the idea is that you should be able to articulate for the admissions committee why you are a good match for that school.

So you have to be well-informed. Um, you have to actually have some personal interest and connection in the institution besides. Knowing that they’re a highly ranked school. Um, and so supplemental essays are great ways for you to know what the admissions committee cares about. Um, if you wanna know what they care about, look at their supplemental essays.

That can give you a hint. And then last I would put letters of recommendation. Um, this is not to say that letters of recommendation are not important, however, I would say that they’re likely the least important on this list. Um, have I set an admissions committee and a letter of recommendation was the thing that, um, might’ve pulled a student over the edge that we were on the fence about?

Absolutely. Um, are there students who have amazing letters of recommendation? And if they do not have these other things on this list, um, is a letter of rec really going to push them over the edge? Likely not. Um, so. All of these things are important. Um, but this is a, um, list that essentially is going to rank, um, what typically carries the most weight.

At the end, I have, um, an asterisk next to standardized test scores. Um, again, this depends on the policy at the college you’re applying to. Um, I do want to note that, um, standardized test scores, even for those that require them, have had decreasing importance over the past years, um, even prior to covid. Um, again, the best measure of how well a student is going to do in college is not how well they did on a test on a Saturday morning at 8:00 AM it is what they did all four years.

So if you’re thinking about your test scores up against your transcript, the transcript is always going to be the most important, um, because it’s a better representation of you academically and intellectually. So, um, I mentioned holistic review, um, in the last slide, but I wanna talk in detail about what holistic review really means.

Um, and if you are looking at an institution that is even moderately selective, so, um, admit rates 50% or below, they are likely using a holistic review perspective. This means that those schools will not ever give you a minimum G P A that you have to have to get in. They won’t give you a minimum, uh, test score.

Instead, they share a range of the types of students that have gotten in previ previously. Um, so students between, for example, a 3.7 and a 3.9, um, have been admitted, um, to our institution to give you some idea of what the numbers look like. Um, however, The picture is definitely in the holistic review. So this, um, graphic here, um, starts with the institutional mission.

Um, the way that admissions officers evaluate your application, um, is typically mission-based. So again, you wanna know what the school caress about, go to their mission, vision, and values webpages. You will start to hear words that describe what they’re looking for in first year students. Um, for example, I spent some time working at Georgia Tech and during that time the, uh, slogan was about creating the next, um, Innovation was a theme we were looking for in applications.

Um, and students that had that experience and were speaking that language in their essays showed that they understood the institutional mission. Um, so it starts there. What is your college value? What are they looking for? Um, and then from there, there is this, um, number of attributes and experiences that come to you as an applicant.

So in the middle, it’s who you are as an applicant. Um, so that can be, um, your experiences. Um, it can be your attributes or it could be your metrics that G p A, um, those test scores. All of these things together, um, allow admissions officers to feel confident that you are a good fit, um, for their college.

And this is ultimately what goes into, uh, a final decision.

So how can students develop an application that showcases their strengths and unique experiences? Um, I think the first thing is to take inventory of everything you’ve done. Um, I cannot tell you how many students, um, forget things that they’ve done. Um, sometimes they think that it’s not worth putting on their application.

Um, what I encourage you to do is make an exhaustive list of all the things that you’ve done in high school, um, and then start reducing that list to fit your activity or extracurricular list. So start big, um, and then say, okay, um, maybe this can come off. Uh, maybe, you know, this is a, a stronger activity to leave on my resume.

Um, so take inventory of everything you’ve done. Um, second, use your essays to share your personality, character, and experiences. Um, essays particularly good essays can be very transformative for your admissions review. And so if you can craft an essay that leaves the committee feeling like they know you, they understand you, they like you, when you read a really witty essay, you feel like you like the student.

Um, that’s how you want to make the people reading your application feel. Um, and so really, really think about how you can show who you are through your essays. And then last, um, set your recommender up for success. We’ll talk a little bit about this, um, later in the presentation. Um, but essentially, Do not blindside your recommender.

Um, you wanna make sure they have what they need, um, and enough time to write you a strong recommendation. Um, and what that does is it co-signs all the amazing things that you’ve already told the admissions committee. Um, it gives you kind of a, a review of someone who knows you and can kind of put that rubber stamp to say, this student, um, really, uh, is a leader.

This student really is passionate about serving their community, uh, so on and so forth.

Fantastic. Thank you Chelsea. I know holistic review can be one of the harder things for students to understand, but the way you explain it is just amazing, um, and always really, really clarifying. So, Let’s see where people are in the application process. I am gonna start another poll for you all just to see where we are in the process at the moment.

Um, so I’m gonna go ahead and launch that now. Um, so what are some of the more unique, um, or funny essays that, that you’ve encountered, um, while reading applications? So, at this point in my career, I’ve probably read over 20,000 essays. Um, so, um, there, there’s specific ones that stand out, but I think more than that, um, it’s a type of essay that that stands out.

Um, I’ve really found that students who focus on kind of these smaller everyday subjects, um, as opposed to trying to tell their entire life story in one essay, um, can be really impactful. Um, so, you know, for example, talking about your. Culture and how you grew up through the lens of your favorite dish that your grandmother cooks.

Um, something that’s like super simple and mundane, but it really gives a window into who you are as a student. Um, I find those essays really valuable. Absolutely. Every time I’ve, I’ve read applications, I’ve always said authenticity and, and truth is really what, what gets our attention. Um, so it looks like we have a lot of students that are currently researching their schools and some of them that are working on their essays, um, a couple that are getting their application materials together.

So it seems like most people are kind of in the midst of the process, um, which is really good to know. Um, and that makes this, this webinar all the more relevant. Okay. Let’s get back into tips on how to make your college application strong. All right. So, um, talking about personal statements and supplemental essays.

Um, so. One of the things that you can do is, um, making a connection between yourself and the mission and values of the institution. Um, and if you think about the way holistic review is laid out, this is exactly what colleges are looking for. If you are intentional about making this connection for them, um, it draws in a lot of the blanks that they might have about you as an applicant.

Um, this should be an authentic connection though. Um, I always tell students, um, when I work with students and they have to sit down and write a why school essay and they’re struggling to write a white school essay, I question them and I say, Do you really need to be applying to this school if you can’t put together a Y school essay?

Um, and that is exactly what’s happening here. You have to have done your research and understand what the school values in order to, um, make a connection that’s going to be valuable in your, um, essays. Make supplemental essays unique to the school. So, um, oftentimes, uh, supplemental essays will call out the school in a prompt.

Um, however, a lot of times the questions are really, really similar. So for example, um, you could have a supplemental essay at m I t that essentially is asking you why you wanna major in engineering. You might have that exact same essay prompt, or very similar about U Ss C engineering program. You have to make sure that you’re speaking towards each of those schools differently.

Um, so the things that you say about the M i t engineering program will likely not be the same things that you’re saying about the U S C engineering program. Um, so you wanna make sure it is unique and tailored to your school, similar to when, um, you put together a resume for a job. Um, it should be unique to the job that you want.

Um, make sure your essays are in your own words. Um, so I think students sometimes look at essays as another opportunity to prove that they’re smart. Remember, these people that are reading your applications already have your transcript. They see all of the AP IB honors courses that you took. They see that you’ve been involved.

They oftentimes already know that you’re smart. The essay is not the place where you want to prove that the essay is the place where you want to show who you are. Um, feel authentic, um, feel like they might, uh, know you after reading your essay. Um, and so making sure that it’s in your own words is really important.

Um, You’re going to have a lot of people helping you in this process. Hopefully you’re going to have a lot of people helping you in this process, whether it is your high school counselor, um, your parents, an older sibling, or your advisor at CollegeAdvisor, there are going to be people that are editing your essays and giving you feedback, um, and recommending sentences.

You wanna make sure that your voice is still balanced as you are revising your essay with others. Um, because when your voice starts to leave and it starts feeling like other people wrote your application, um, that’s not a good thing. And I would probably be remiss not to mention how ai, um, has played into how folks are looking at essays.

So admissions committees are even more interested in feeling like there’s a personal connection to your essay and that it’s authentic. And it sounds like you. The last tip, um, is what I shared earlier, using small stories to share big insights. Um, I think this is a great format, um, to present essays that are interesting, um, and that the reader may not know exactly where it’s going, but you’re able to kind of wrap up the story really well at the end.

Um, this often gets at the meat of the question a little better than more broad essays, um, that talk about, um, you over a span of four years, um, or you throughout your life. Sometimes readers can get lost in those kind of longer narratives. Um, so don’t be afraid to choose a topic that, um, feels small or mundane or simple.

Um, you can still craft a good essay around it.

So how can students demonstrate their personal brand and stand out through their extracurricular activities? Um, so the first one is that there are limits to the number of activities that you’re able to include on your college application. And these vary between the common app, the coalition app, the uc schools.

Um, so you wanna find out what is the max number of activities that you can list on the college that you’re applying to. Um, but after that, if you have more than that number, then you have to strategically pick what activities are going to be the most valuable for you in this process. Um, and so you wanna choose activities that best represent you, um, and your interest and also your strengths.

Um, explain your role in each activity. Um, there is opportunity to give a quick description of the activity. Um, and sometimes it is a description and the student just describes the organization. Well, I mean, that’s great, but if you had a leadership role, I would wanna hear what was your role in that organization?

What was your role on that team? Um, and so that’s a really good way to pull yourself out of an organization that you might think that, oh, admissions officers see this all the time. Well, they don’t see what you do individually all the time. So you talk about what you brought to that organization, what your experience was.

Um, were there benchmarks? Did you raise money? Um, were you elected for an office? So these are the things that you wanna discuss. Um, articulating impact. So, um, articulating your impact is essentially, um, what impact did you make by participating in this activity? Um, this can happen on your activities list or you can use your essays to really talk about, um, the impact that you’ve had.

Um, was it on your high school? Was it in your community? Did you have statewide impact? Were you involved in a national organization that had national impact? Um, did you go on a mission trip that had international impact? Um, so really being able to lay out the scope of what you did in that organization, um, can be really beneficial.

If you have an activity that you are super proud of or you feel, um, like it is a core part of who you are, um, then don’t hesitate to expand on that activity through an essay prompt. This could be in your personal essay or your supplemental essays. Um, if you feel like you have more to say, then those are great places to talk about it.

Um, and then last, you can include a recommendation from the club advisor. Um, if you have a teacher that also served as an advisor for your organization, um, this could be someone that could speak to you academically, but also could make a case for, um, why you would be a leader on campus.

So what are the best practices for choosing those recommenders and requesting letters of recommendation? Um, so first thing, give your recommenders ample time to complete. I would say at least four weeks in advance. Um, but. There’s never, it’s never too early, but this is definitely a standard. Give them four weeks.

They are likely being inundated by other people that are asking for recommendations as well. So you wanna make sure that you’re being mindful of their workload. Um, the second piece is also being mindful of their workload supply. A brag sheet or resume. This does two things. Um, it makes their job easier.

They don’t have to ask you what you’ve been involved in outside of their class. They don’t have to guess or talk to other teachers about you. Um, and it’s a really good way, um, to share with your recommenders the things that you’re proud of and that you would like for them to talk about if they could.

Um, so it is, Probably a little tacky to tell your recommender exactly what you want them to say. Um, but if you have a resume or a brag sheet that has all of your highlights, um, and you give it to your recommender, it is more likely that they will also pull from that resume, um, to support the things that they already know about you.

Um, and then last, choose recommender that know you in an academic or extracurricular context. Um, most schools will, uh, require you to either choose a teacher or a counselor. Um, but if for some reason the door is left open, um, Do not choose a family member. Do not choose, um, a family friend that does not know you in an academic or, um, extracurricular context.

These should be professional recommendations, academic recommendations, um, and not just someone who’s going to tell us how great and lovely you are, although I’m sure you are great and lovely, but that does not help us in knowing whether you would be a good fit for the college.

So some mistakes that students and parents avoid in the admissions process. Um, this is a very short list of, um, some of the pitfalls, um, that you might, uh, have in the admissions process. I think the first one is creating an unbalanced list. Um, if you are working with CollegeAdvisor already, this is one of the first things that you’ll do as you approach your senior year, is really talk about the list of schools that you wanna apply to.

Um, and a balanced list means that you have some schools that, um, are safety schools. You have some schools, um, that are target where you’re kind of in the wheelhouse of who gets admitted. And you have a couple schools that are reach schools. Um, that’s a balance list. An unbalanced list would be a list that contains all reach schools.

So, um, reach schools can be defined as schools that have very low admit rates. We can use under 10% as, um, an example, some might even say under 20%. When at mid rates are that low. The school is a reach for everyone. Um, and so no matter how competitive you are, um, you cannot always be so confident, um, that you’re going to get into all of these schools.

Um, so it’s really important to make sure your list is balanced, so you have options in the spring. Um, pay attention to deadlines, that’s super important. This could be just a logistical error in applying, um, that might really sabotage your experience, um, and ultimately your decision. Um, not celebrating the small wins.

Um, I think the big wins always feel like an acceptance, but there’s really a lot of small wins in this process. Um, it might be pressing submit on your first application. Um, it might be, um, going through a few revisions of your essay and feeling really good about it. Um, and so parents, I encourage you if your students aren’t celebrating the small wins, um, that you remind them to kind of take a break, um, and reflect on all that they’ve done in this process because it can feel very long and very stressful.

And then the last one, um, I would say not tracking on the financial aid process. Um, and what this means is you need to understand as a student or a parent how finances will play a role in your decision. Um, are you expecting a full scholarship? Um, are your parents expecting you to stay in state because they’re paying out of pocket and that’s what’s going to be affordable?

Um, are you expecting to, um, work through through college? Right? So having some idea of what your finances look like ahead of time, um, will allow you to also choose schools on your list that are going to be good financial fits for you as well.

Um, best practices when it comes to developing a strong, uh, application. Um, some of these I’ve touched on a bit, but this is a good list to, um, Keep with you as we head into the Q&A. Um, start early and stay organized. This is super important. Um, this allows you to take some of the stress out of this process.

Um, if you’re not waiting till the last minute, um, to produce these materials. Understanding the mission and values of the institution you’re applying to. This is a huge one. The more you understand about the college, the better your application is going to be. Um, because you know what they’re looking for.

Um, be honest and forthcoming. Use the additional information prompt if needed. Um, so this can be a number of things. Um, but I think what I see students doing the most, um, is that there’s some detail about their high school career. Maybe they, um, moved a few times or, um, really struggled with their mental health during c o d, um, or had some family dynamic changes or lost a loved one.

These are all things that can have a huge impact on how students are doing at school. Um, and if this had an impact for you, there are numerous opportunities to tell admissions committee members so that when they look at. Your grades, your sophomore year. They don’t have to make up a story about what went wrong.

You’re telling them what went wrong. This is not making an excuse. This is giving them context in which to evaluate you. Um, on the common app, there’s two prompts to do this. The C Ovid 19 prompt and the educational progression prompt. Um, so those are flat out op out opportunities. It’s not asking you for a essay, it’s just asking you for the facts.

Take advantage of those. And then last, identify your people resources. Um, again, this could be, um, anyone in your family, family, friends, um, siblings that have went through this process. Um, older students that went to your high school that are now at the college that you’re want to attend. Um, your CollegeAdvisor, your counselor.

Um, identify who these people are and let them know they’re part of your village early. Um, and that you will be kind of calling on them for different things throughout the senior year, um, to help put together the best application possible.

Awesome. Chelsea, thank you so much. That was so informative. Um, so this is the end of the presentation, part of the webinar. I hope you found this as informative as I did and helpful. And remember that you can download the slides from the link in the handouts tab. So we’re gonna move on to the live Q&A.

I’ll read through the questions you’ve submitted in the Q&A tab. Um, paste them into the public chat so you can see, and then read them out loud before our panelist gives you an answer. Um, as a heads up, if your Q&A tab isn’t letting you submit questions, just double check that you join the webinar through the custom link in your email and not from the webinar landing page.

So we will go ahead and get started with some questions. Um, I think one of the big ones that we received, especially around extracurriculars, is, is it okay if I’m applying as an engineering major but have mostly music related extracurriculars? How do extracurriculars that are not related to a student’s major affected admissions?

Yeah, really good question. Um, so for most schools, your, uh, admissions decision is a combination of, um, Your admissions office reviewing your application and the school or major of interest? Um, at some schools that could be 50 50. Um, more so in my experience, it’s more like 70 30, 70% is the admissions office, 30%, um, is the major.

And, um, because of that, a strong application to the admissions office, they may be looking for traces of that major. Um, particularly for engineering. Um, we’re looking at, um, your calculus classes. What’s the highest math that you took? Um, so there’s some of these things that are very much related to major.

Um, but no, I don’t think that it is automatically, um, A deduction for you to have music activities. Some, uh, admissions readers look at that as you being, um, really diverse and dynamic and multifaceted. Um, I do not want to stereotype engineers. Um, but um, when I’ve worked in, um, disciplines like engineering, computer science, when we saw students were also artists and musicians and poets, that was really cool because a lot of students in those majors do have a more technical resume, um, that is a little bit more predictable.

So I think if framed correctly, that could actually be a benefit for you in the process. Awesome. And this kind of follows the extracurricular theme. Um, one of our attendees wanted to know if they played basketball in ninth or 10th grade, only in ninth and 10th grade. Or let’s say someone did an activity in only ninth and 10th grade.

Should they include that in their extracurricular list? Yeah. So, um, I, it depends on the activity. Um, I think participating in something for two years is still valuable. Um, You participated more than just the one year. Um, so there’s opportunity for growth, there’s opportunity for more involvement that second year.

Um, especially if you do not have 10 activities or 12 activities to list, then absolutely you should list it. Um, if you have 20 activities and you’re trying to kind of see what one might not make the most sense, then maybe you would take off something that you only participated in for two years and that you didn’t hold a leadership position in.

Um, so again, take that inventory, know the amount of, uh, activities that you can put on your application. Um, Joseph, is it 10 for common app or 12? Uh, it is 10. Okay. It’s 10 activities for Common app. So if you’re over 10, um, then yes, you wanna make some choices about what activities are best. Um, if you’re under 10, I think putting basketball for two years is absolutely valid.

And then someone asked, because I, I think this is a pretty important part of, um, the process when you said student attributes, things that students can highlight on their application. What do you mean by student attributes? Yeah. Um, so this has more to do with your character and who you are. Um, this could be you being, um, creative or, um, compassionate, um, or, um, we talked about like musical talent.

Um, so all of these things that are going to be unique to you that can’t be quantified, so not your G P a, not your test score, all the things that make you who you are. Um, those are some of the things that, uh, admissions readers are looking for to feel like not only are you a good student, but you’re a good person.

Absolutely. And speaking of those, um, figuring out what those attributes are and the best way to really assist in this process. Um, for those of you in the room who aren’t already working with us, we do know that the process can be overwhelming. Um, our team of over 300 former admissions officers and admissions experts, including Chelsea and myself, are ready to help you and your family navigate it all in one-on-one advising sessions.

So you can take the next step in your college admissions journey by signing up for a free 45 to 60 minute strategy strategy session with an admission specialist on our team using this QR code that’s on the screen. Um, during this meeting, we’ll review your current extracurricular list and application strategy, discuss how they line up with your college list and outline the tools you need to stand out in the competitive admissions world.

So this will really allow you to start to get an insight on the process. Um, and with that said, um, we will jump back into the Q&A. Um, we did have a question about kind of best ways to start personal statements or college essays and kind of the things that you tell students to think about when they’re starting their personal statement.

Yeah. So, um, I think this time of the year, so of course for any seniors on the call, but also juniors, um, the first thing that I like to do is brainstorm topics. Um, so. You don’t have to go into this process with one topic and you’re committed to it and you’re gonna make it work at all costs. Um, what I would rather see is you have three to four ideas and that you can workshop them.

So writing an outline for each, or starting off with a small paragraph for each or an anecdote that you think might work for each of those prompts. Um, and then that allows you to see what is most exciting to you, um, and what could be the most compelling part of the application. Um, so it is definitely an idea phase first before you sit down, um, and actually start writing.

Absolutely. Um, so this is kind of, uh, a specific question, but an important one. So if a student is planning to apply straight to a school, um, not through the common app, but directly to that school, does the admission office know that the recommendation letters and transcripts won’t come on, come until later on?

Um, I think they mean can they send those materials later and can they still apply early if those items take longer to arrive there? Yeah. Really great question. Um, so some colleges publish what they call a document deadline. Um, and the document deadline can be anywhere from five days to 30 days after the application deadline.

And it essentially means you have this long to get all of your materials in. Um, If we receive a transcript before the application or an application with no transcript, an admissions file is started for you as a student. And so everything else that comes after it is just added on until your application is complete.

Um, so absolutely most students submit the application first and then the materials are coming in after. Um, but you wanna make sure that your materials make the application deadline or the document deadline if there is one. Some schools don’t have a document deadline, it is the day. So you wanna make sure that you ask that question if it is not apparent on their website.

Perfect. And someone speaking about this, uh, about how to apply asked, is it better to apply via the common app or through the individual college websites? Um, I think it depends. Um, I am a fan of Common App, um, so I think it makes it, you know, easy and accessible for students to apply to a number of institutions.

Um, most likely the internal application is very, very similar to what they ask on the common app. Um, so it is literally kind of just pick your poison. Um, there are no differences in how you’re reviewed or seen, um, depending on how you apply. Absolutely. This question, we’re gonna kind of put two questions together ’cause I think they, they work pretty well together.

Um, so what if someone has not participated in sports or other activities, um, kind of how does that affect the process and what would your advice be for them? And going off of that, what, how does it affect your applications if most of your extracurriculars are in your senior year? Yeah. Um, so. Two, two separate questions, but I think they’re definitely related.

Um, so one, does the school that you’re applying to put value on extracurricular involvement, um, I’ve been speaking really broadly for selective institutions that you usually, um, are very interested in that, but not all schools are looking for some extensive activity lists. Um, so you might create your list with that in mind.

Um, and really thinking about what schools, um, would be open to you having, having limited activities. Um, I also wanna challenge the fact that there’s any student who has no activities. I assure you, you have done something. Um, Some of the more non-traditional activities that I named earlier. Um, having a job, taking care of a younger sibling, being a c caretaker for your grandmother, um, the list kind of goes on.

So I really encourage you to think a little deeper. Um, being a self-taught musician, writing poetry in your free time. So like there’s all of these things that are not you being part of a sport at your school or, um, an organization that are still valid and considered involvement. So before you say, I have no activities, think about all of the things that might not feel like an activity to you, but um, could fit.

Um, the second piece, same thing for students, um, who have only activities your senior year. That one is I could. Um, comparable to not having any activities at all because depending on when you apply, we are not gonna see what you were able to do in those activities. You’re kind of just telling us that you’re planning to join them, um, because the senior year hasn’t started or hasn’t ended yet.

Um, and so I would say the advice is likely the same. Um, it is a red flag to see, um, activities back loaded in the high school career. So it feels like I only joined these activities because I’m now about to apply to college. Um, I am not saying that is always the case for every student. If that is not the case for you, tell the admissions committee why you were unable to be involved in things year one, two, and three, and why now you are interested in joining this club or organization.

Um, so again, giving that additional context. Absolutely. I had a question here that I’ve, I’ve seen a couple times working with students. Um, so this question is, can you submit different personal statements that highlight different aspects of yourself to different schools or should you submit the same statement everywhere?

So, Joseph, correct me if I’m wrong, ’cause I think you work with students a little bit more than I do. Um, your personal statement for the common app is standard across the board. Correct. And I often recommend to students, they absolutely set your personal statement should be strong enough for every single institution you’re applying to.

Um, and should be a strong representation of you regardless. Um, and then the supplements are where you get the chance to really tailor those essays to each of the universities. Yeah, I think the only, um, exception for that is if you were applying. On a different platform. So to the school or through the coalition app, then technically you could have the opportunity to write a new personal statement.

Um, but again, to Joseph’s point, yeah, your personal statement should be the essay that you want everybody to read. Yes, there are a couple different questions about what are considered, um, activities. I will say when you create a common app account, you will see that there is an extremely long list of things that can count as categories of activities.

So some of the things I’m seeing here, like being a middle school coach, so going down and coaching at the middle school, or being part of summer programs or doing research, um, or holding jobs, c p r, lifeguarding, certifications, these are all things that, uh, that are activities. Um, someone did ask about passion projects and how passion projects can play into college applications.

Um, so. Uh, generally favorably, um, I have seen passion projects that feel very strategic and inauthentic. Um, so, you know, the summer before a senior, the senior year, the student is like, I need another activity. I need something. And they put together something that’s called a passion project. Um, if it is authentically something that you did, um, over the course of your four years, um, that you’re passionate about, um, absolutely I think it’s valid.

Um, The, the, the question also talked about how common it is. Um, I think the more selective the institution, um, the more common that can be. Um, I also see more of the self-guided projects show up in the engineering and computer science space. Um, so it also depends on the major that you’re pursuing. Um, so like a coding project for a computer science applicant at a super selective school is probably a pretty common passion project.

Um, but that does not mean that it’s not valid and that you should not include it. Um, yeah, that’s what I’ll say about the passion projects. Great. In the realm of other things that can be part of a application, um, is it valuable for students to build websites or portfolios and is it relevant? Yeah, absolutely.

Um, I think so for one, some colleges will leave the door open to you submitting those things. Um, so if you have something else that you want to share with us, like a portfolio, like a website, um, feel free to upload it here. Um, so some colleges are definitely like raising their hand and saying, Hey, we would love to see that.

Um, also sometimes the specific major that you’re interested in will require that or leave that optional. So that is a great way to speak to the major directly, um, and kind of have some advocacy on the academic side, um, in addition to the admissions office. Um, so yeah, I think they’re great. I think they’re, they’re valid.

Um, again, if you’re over strategizing your application and it is something you’re just trying to do to. Um, beef up your application. I don’t know if that’s worth it. Um, but if it’s something that is a representative of your interest and experience, absolutely, they’re great. Awesome. Um, so when it comes to logistics of the application, um, one of our attendees is asking where they can find the list of documents or requirements, um, for a school’s application.

Yeah. So, um, you want to go to the school’s admissions page, um, and typically they will have, um, a sub page titled Applying, um, and first Year students. Um, so on those pages you’ll find dates and deadlines. You’ll find document deadlines if there is one. Um, all of that information should be prominently displayed on the school’s website.

Great. Um, and then we had a quick question about classes in senior year and how much the classes you choose to take your senior year will matter for your application. Yeah. Um, so great question. Again, depending on when you apply, um, the senior year classes are only shown as in progress. So if you’re submitting an application in November, um, we won’t see how those classes end up.

Um, so in some ways it may be a wash for what you’re taking senior year, um, in other ways. We may say, okay, this student has taken rigorous courses all three years. They have another, um, year of rigorous courses they did well previously. We’re gonna assume that they’re gonna do, um, well and keep that, um, track going with these courses.

Um, and then the last thing I would say, again, for engineering or computer science, um, oftentimes we’re looking for like that final math or that final science. Um, so showing that in progress versus not there at all can be helpful. Absolutely. Um, regarding college lists, um, someone has asked is 20 schools too many to apply to?

They feel like all the schools fit them very well. Um, but they have 11 of those 20 that are reached schools. Um, so does, does that seem like an unbalanced list? Um, we’d have to see it. Um, 20 is a lot, but 20. Unfortunately is not uncommon, um, these days. Um, so it, it is not absolutely crazy. Um, I would encourage the student to interrogate why you’re applying to 11 reach schools, um, and make sure that you have genuine interest in all of those schools.

Um, because 11 Reach schools is a lot of reach schools to be on your list. Yes. Um, and a parent has asked about suggestions for starting to think about scholarships, um, if a school does not seem to have a lot of financial aid options. Yeah. Um, so the first thing that you wanna know, um, Are you interested or are you seeking need-based scholarships or merit-based scholarships?

Um, if you are seeking need-based, um, that line of questioning can be a little different with financial aid offices, um, than merit-based. Um, but I think what this parent is getting at is that there’s not much aid available at the institution. Um, and how can you fund otherwise? Um, there are thousands, tens of thousands external, uh, external scholarships.

Um, the great thing about external scholarships is that if you are awarded them, you can take them to any school that you attend. Um, so most corporations have external college scholarships, home Depot, Coca-Cola, Google Delta, um, the list goes on. Um, you have nonprofit organizations that, um, Have, uh, external scholarships that you can apply for.

Um, they can be sometimes as low as a thousand dollars, um, as high as, you know, full rides. Um, so what I would say, if you think that you will need to get creative about scholarship funds, start down and have your student apply to scholarships, like it is their part-time job, they are incredibly competitive.

Um, and you wanna start earlier in the year versus later. Um, and so visiting legitimate scholarship, um, websites, um, and really applying to as many as possible, um, it can really add up even if it is small, um, numbers individually. Absolutely. Um, a student, this is more of a specific question, but I think there is a way to make it general.

Um, so someone is applying as a bio major, um, but they haven’t, but they won’t take AP bio until their senior year, although they’ve taken other science and bio courses. Will that be a problem? Um, so if you’re not taking some of the advanced classes in your major until your senior year, do you think that would be an issue on, um, applications?

Um, it depends. So like some schools, because of the way classes track or set up, you’re not able to take those courses until your senior year. Um, so again, if that’s the case, that’s something that you can say. Um, also, if you’ve had like a healthy selection of rigorous courses all throughout, um, your four years and you’ve had sciences, um, I think this example, um, They’re less likely to say, well, why didn’t she take this one AP biology course?

Um, so I wouldn’t laser focus in on that so much as long as you have general rigor, um, and general rigor in the math and sciences. Great. And I think, um, this is one last good question to fig, uh, to kind of close this out on, and that would be how do you kind of make a cohesive application overall? Um, so each of the elements of your application should, um, reinforce.

Other elements. So I talked about ways that you can submit an activities list and then write an essay about one of your activities that’s really powerful. Um, ways that you can strategically pick recommenders that are going to, um, speak to, um, your success in a certain class or your success in a certain organization.

Um, and so tying together those pieces of your application, um, I think can be really valuable. Um, students are. Tempted to ask what will make me stand out? Um, which I answered that question, but I hate answering that question because, um, it really is you presenting the most authentic picture of you. That is what’s going to make you stand out and tying together those disparate pieces of your application and creating a story for the admissions committee to understand about you, um, is the way to really, um, make a strong application.

Fantastic. So that brings us to the end of our webinar. Um, we had a really great time telling you about what makes a strong application. I want to thank Chelsea. Um, this was fantastic as always. Um, and for those of you that are interested in our other webinars, here are our upcoming webinars for August so far.

Um, we have essay, uh, essay brainstorming webinar coming up on the eighth, another AO advice webinar on the 15th, and a webinar on the 16th about different decision deadlines, early decision, early action, and regular decision. Um, I thank you all for attending, um, and I hope you have a great evening. Thanks everyone.