Building Your Personal Brand for College Admissions

Are you a high school student getting ready to apply for college? Do you want to stand out from the competition and make a lasting impression on admissions officers? Join us for an informative webinar on “Building Your Personal Brand for College Admissions,” designed specifically for high school students and their parents.

Admissions expert Maria Acosta Robayo will delve into the importance of personal branding and how it can significantly impact your college application journey. Maria will guide you through practical strategies and valuable insights to help you craft a compelling personal brand that resonates with admissions committees.

Key Learnings to Expect in the Webinar:

  • Understanding the concept of personal branding and its relevance to college admissions.
  • Identifying your unique strengths, passions, and values to shape your personal brand.
  • Developing a cohesive narrative that highlights your accomplishments and experiences.
  • Crafting a memorable and impactful personal statement that reflects your brand identity.
  • Navigating the college admissions process with your personal brand in mind.
  • Utilizing networking opportunities and connecting with mentors who can enhance your brand.
  • Showcasing your personal brand through interviews, essays, recommendation letters, and extracurricular activities.
  • Embracing authenticity and staying true to your personal brand throughout the application process.

Join us for the “Building Your Personal Brand for College Admissions” webinar and unlock the secrets to standing out in a competitive college admissions landscape. Register now to secure your spot!

Date 10/02/2023
Duration 1:00:43

Webinar Transcription

2023-10-02 – Building Your Personal Brand for College Admissions

Stacey: Hi, everyone. My name is Stacey Tuttle, and I am your moderator today. Welcome to, “Building Your Personal Brand for College Admissions.” To orient everyone with the webinar timing, we’ll start off with the presentation and then answer your questions in a live Q and A. On the sidebar, you can download your slides and you can start submitting questions in the Q and A tab when you’re ready.

So now, without further ado, let’s meet our lovely panelist, Maria.

Maria: Hi, everyone. My name is Maria Acosta Robayo, and I graduated from Harvard class of 2020, where I studied sociology and global health policy, and then where I was also on the pre med track.

Stacey: Amazing. Um, trying not to hold against you that you’re a Harvard grad.

It’s okay. Um, Yale grad over here. So I think we have a good pair up tonight to handle all the Q& A’s that come at us between the two of our knowledge bases. So I’m really excited for This presentation. Um, and so with that, I do want to get a sense of who’s in the room today. You’re going to see a poll pop up in front of you.

What grade are you in? So we’re looking to see, do we have some freshmen, sophomore, junior, seniors? Maybe we have some folks who are not currently in high school. Maybe your parent, maybe your counselor, whatever that looks like. So give us a sense of who’s in the room. Go ahead and answer that poll. Um, Okay.

And Maria, I have to ask you, did you have any concept of what personal brand was when you were in high school? Because I know I didn’t.

Maria: Yeah, not really. I mean, I think admissions officers that had come to our school and talked about the type of students that they wanted to see, it just didn’t happen. In my mind, it just fell into the category of like, okay, I just need to stand out, but I didn’t really know how or what a personal brand was.

Um, I think once I was actually at Harvard, I started seeing how people responded to the way that they actually applied and who they presented themselves. And that’s where I started to get a bit of a sense of what personal brand was, but I didn’t intentionally use one. Um, I think only in retrospect, can I kind of pick out what my personal brand would have been?

Stacey: Yeah, I think so too, for me as well. And so you all are really ahead of the game getting a lot of great insight from Maria today. Um, and so Looking at the poll, not really surprising. We have a lot of juniors and seniors. So you all are sort of in the thick of thinking about your college list and starting the applications or in the middle of your applications.

We do have some sophomores and a few freshmen and then we have some others in the room. So I’m really excited for the diversity that we’re seeing today. Um, let’s move on to the main part of the presentation. So, Maria, I’m going to. I’m going to hand it over to you.

Maria: Sounds great. Thanks, Stacey. So, uh, Stacey kind of already hinted at this, but when I was applying, I didn’t really know what a personal brand was.

And this is why you’re all here today, to kind of get a sense of what this means, how you can use it for your application. What do admission officers look at when they’re looking at personal brands and how to make a diverse community? And so, um, a personal brand, just to kick off, is just an external expression of who you are.

what you’re passionate about and who you aspire to be. This is a way of presenting yourself on paper that allows an admissions officer who’s never known you or might not know you, uh, to get a better sense of who you are and what you will bring to the campus. Um, and it’s one of the most important parts of your application, not because it’s like something that you write in in your common app or, uh, because it’s something that’s like in your checklist, but rather because it permeates in a lot of different parts of your application.

Usually this, um, also permeates through your essay and the way that you answer a short or long answer. Uh, answer questions, the way that you list your extracurriculars, the way you even describe your extracurriculars, um, the type of classes that you take. So it’s a kind of the connective tissue that brings together lots of different parts of your application and is further confirmed by, uh, your letters of recommendation.

Um, and so why is this personal brand important? Well, it’s an opportunity that, Uh, to set yourself apart from other students who are also applying and who might have similar quantitative scores and experiences. So on paper, right, you might have very similar, uh, let’s say GPA, SAT’tcs or whatnot as somebody else.

But in conjunction with your essay, having a personal brand and kind of a lens from which to look at why you’re taking these activities. Like what kind of constituted that same numerical GPA, but like, what did your class course look like? It’s kind of that, again, the lens that you’re providing an admissions officer with to see your, the different components of your application.

Um, it also is important because it gives personality and depth to your application. Uh, again, it’s, it’s a lot easier to remember a story than just a set of facts. And so when you’re giving, um, your, uh, application. Or you’re including your personal brand in your application. Again, you’re offering an opportunity to remember something that’s a little bit more, um, personable.

Like, uh, again, that could be things relating to your, uh, passions, your background. Uh, something that they can remember as a whole story instead of just trying to remember a set of, uh, quantitative, uh, facts about you. And then lastly, uh, and kind of connected to this, it helps admissions officers see a person in the story, uh, rather than those quantitative points, um, so that’s kind of just a reiteration of some of that.

Um, so what are some ways that you can build this personal brand? So, uh, usually the way that one can start thinking about this is just taking a step back and trying to remember some overarching values, characteristics, and passions that you want to highlight. Thank you. But you’re probably have lots of different things that you’re interested in or lots of different experience of experiences that you’ve been through, but it’s really hard to sometimes try to thread what the most important ones are together into a cohesive identity.

While everyone’s identity is a little messy and has different parts that are really hard to just tie in and Bring to an admissions officer all at once. It’s important to try to tease out with the most important ones You are maybe you’re more salient identities most important hobbies So that again you can present a more cohesive story that is easy for an admissions officer to remember And again, when you get into, when you get to college, right, you shouldn’t just, um, think about you’re only those things that you presented to the admissions officer, you’re a whole lot of other things, but in the limited time and limited space that you have to present yourself before an admissions officer through your application, you kind of have to pick and choose which ones you want to prioritize.

Um, then once you have those overarching values, characteristics, and passions, then you start identifying some examples across school, extracurricular, professional, and personal experience, experiences that can help provide a little bit more evidence and context for those, uh, overarching values. Like elements.

Um, so those are what I would call like your miles, like your mile posts, um, whether in your essay or the way that you frame an activity description, the way that you talk about, or you include any additional comments in your application. And this permeates throughout your entire application. And then. If you’re not a senior and, uh, I say that because now for seniors, like it’s, it’s very close to application time.

And so you might not have time to start something completely new or to maybe. Apply for like a leadership position because those were selected probably before you started the year Um, so if you’re not a senior You should try to get involved or apply for more senior positions in the clubs or activity or activities that really highlight your brand and the reason for that is that it shows just a deeper sense of commitment and motivation, uh that support why you chose those, uh, extracurriculars or activities to Uh to be your your personal brand

Stacey: Thank you so much, Maria. So we do have another poll that’s going to appear in front of you now. Um, again, we have a lot of juniors and seniors in the room as Maria alluded to. There’s a lot of folks who are really in the middle of the application process. Most likely, but we wanted to get a sense of where everybody is in their college application timeline.

So, tell us a little bit more. Are you working on your essays? Are you almost done? Good for you? Are you haven’t started yet? Really? Give us that sense. Um, And in the meantime, I will tell you, I don’t know if I really started started my application process until the common app actually opened in August before my senior year.

And maybe that was just because I didn’t have a lot of guidance. Um, at that time as to when to start. But Maria, do you. I, I believe you went through, um, QuestBridge, if I’m not mistaken, right, from our experiences on other webinars. So did that process look different for you?

Maria: Yeah, so I started thinking about what colleges I wanted to go to, like, in probably junior year when I started to kind of narrow it down.

Or started hearing about college visits. I never actually went to a college visit until I got accepted to Harvard and I went to their, uh, freshman orientation, but I had heard about QuestBridge as an opportunity, um, for low income students to be connected with colleges and have, um, usually those included getting like a full ride that if you got through the program and you got into one of the schools, you were matched with them.

And so, um, I tried really hard to, to get my application ready for the very early application of October. So if you think back to like, when you usually submit your application, November is kind of you, the, the time for early applications. Um, but QuestBridge was even sooner. So I was in October. So I had to take some time over the summer to think about my essays and, um, to start actually thinking about my application so that I wasn’t, um, too behind when the school year started.

Stacey: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And for those of you in the room who are sophomores, juniors, even freshmen, keep in mind that there are sometimes early deadlines for scholarships, early action, early decision schools. So those aren’t all January deadlines. Some of them are in October and November. So just keep that in mind.

And Looking at the poll results. Now, it looks like we do have a lot of students who are currently in the middle of researching school. So this is really interesting when we think about personal brand and how that might align right with the school at the major programs you are hoping to pursue. And then we have, you know, scattered, haven’t started working on essays, getting application materials together.

And we do have some people who are almost done. So congratulations to you all back over to the main part of the presentation with you, Maria.

Maria: Thank you. Um, so kind of picking up where we left off. Uh, the question here is how can a well developed personal brand help you stand out in the college admissions process?

So this is, I’m following up with why it’s important, like where, where does a personal brand fit into the process? Um, so the way it usually helps you stand out from other people is that it will, first of all, just personally help you as the student applying. take a step back and think about what you care, enjoy, and are interested in most.

And the reason that’s helpful is because you’re going to have to write essays, you’re going to have to talk about your extracurriculars and decide which to prioritize, and just having that moment of reflection. It’s going to be really helpful for you to not, um, to just have a sense of what you want to present.

It’s going to expedite the time that you’re going to be brainstorming for essay topics. And so it’s just a good thing to do before you even start your application. But again, also part of, um, just this process overall, um, then it’s also because college opportunity apps are just opportunities to be reflective and think about who you are and what you want to explore in college.

And so, again, these are all these first 2 bullets are kind of just explaining. Thinking about this more holistically of not just being part of standing out in general in the exact application, but being prepared to write an application that stands out. And part of being prepared for that is you yourself having a sense of what you want to say.

What you want to show the admissions officer and ultimately how you want to brand yourself. And so while again, the goal is standing out in the application process, there’s things that need to happen before that. And it’s usually like this moment of reflection and, um, Just like thinking about what you want to do and or how you want to present yourself Um, and then thinking through your personal brand will also help you to have a more cohesive story Or again kind of this just repeated what I said But once you have that for yourself, then it’s so much easier to share it with someone else in a clear and convincing way And so this is the reason why it’s going to help you stand out is because the more you think about your personal unique story, it’s going to allow you to extract those very specific examples, those things that other people won’t be able to copy or say about their life.

And those are the things that are going to stand out to an admissions officer. Um, and so this is that process that seems like a little bit murky and like, why am I doing this? This is not really translating to a specific part of the application. Is again going to be something that permeates through a lot of other things and that process of going through and thinking and reflecting and prioritizing is going to allow you to tease out the things that are going to make admissions officers really remember you as opposed to somebody else.

Um, and usually when folks don’t take the time to do that early enough or with enough intention, they end up sharing things that are very. Broad and just maybe something that other people have already also written very frequently. But again, the more time you take to think about these things, the more details you get, the more specific you get.

And so those are the, are the things that you should bring out in your essays, in your short answers, in the way that you describe your activities and in the way that you brand yourself. And those are the things that are going to help you stand out. So where in your application can you highlight your passions, uh, uh, and your personal brand?

So I kind of alluded to some of these already. Um, the first thing that I thought of that or the first thing that folks usually think of is like in your essays, right? This is an opportunity for you to provide more information about your personal brand with more context and more word count. And it’s just the first thing folks usually think about.

But there’s also the activities list and coursework and letters of recommendation. And so I’ll go through those as well. So with the activities list, um, you can share a personal brand by giving a greater quantity and more quantitative data about the activities that are supposed to reflect your personal brand.

And I’m going to share a little bit more about how I did that for my My personal brand again, looking back, uh, but this is an opportunity to list up to 10 activities and to give little descriptors of each and through the amount of hours that you put, the way that you put them on the list, the way that you describe your activities.

Those are ways to kind of, again, solidify the, um, the brand that you have. So let’s say like if you’re going for student athlete, then you probably, or, uh, I guess to say something more, more, um, a little bit more complex there. So let’s say you’re, you’re going for a personal brand that is, uh, an athlete that does global health and a lot of community service.

And then usually you would want if that’s your personal brand Then you should probably have activities that have at least one activity in each of those, right? you should probably do something community service if you like global health and Whether it’s a book of we were a part of a seminar conference classes that you took or an activity related to that Um, and then athletics you should probably have something related to a sport that you played, whether that was in school or an outside club.

And so your activities list gives you an opportunity to talk about several of those things. And then ideally, if you’re bringing those all together. Maybe there were something that connects all of those. So let’s say you started a nonprofit that helps student athletes get tutored in, um, like, um, a course related to like health, right?

That’s a clear way of bringing together community service, athleticism, and like global health or health in general. And so again, the activities list gives you a chance to just throw out lots of different examples of how you are points of evidence, uh, data points that serve as evidence for your personal brand.

Then you have, again, your essays, which I listed first because that’s usually where everyone’s head goes to. And that is an opportunity to just talk more in depth about your personal brand. Usually that happens in your personal statement, which is where you talk about the things that matter to you most, who you are as a person.

And so that’s a really good way to talk about things more in depth, but it’s only 650 words. Which for some might sound like a lot, but when you’re trying to describe who you are in 650 words, that can sometimes be really hard. And so again, the activities list kind of supplements that by giving you more opportunities to talk about more things, but in a more concise way.

Then you have your coursework. So the types and combination of classes that you take can also be representative of your brand. So let’s say for the same example of a athlete that in global health, that does, um, community service, maybe you took classes in, um, you probably took some health classes. Maybe you took anatomy and physiology, maybe you took chemistry and biology.

Um, Maybe you took a class in sociology or, um, human geography because you were interested in community service in other countries, um, and, and what, what it looked like to do international aid or something like that, uh, that related both health and community service. And so that’s a way to maybe talk a little bit about coursework.

Um, I would say even with like extracurricular activities that you write there, like if they’re connected to a course, like that’s something to know as well for your activities list. Thank you. And then lastly, letters of recommendation. Uh, that’s an opportunity for you to have someone else validate your personal brand.

And so what I recommend with that is, is you’re looking for teachers of recommendation. Seniors, uh, I’m not sure if Like hopefully you all have started to at least think about who you’re going to ask or have already gotten a confirmation that you’re going to get a letter from your teachers, but I’ll say like, uh, for anyone who’s thinking about getting a letter of recommendation, it’s important to ask ahead and make sure that the teachers that you want to write Your letters are available and that they know who you are and I think something that’s especially important for them Or in this topic of affirming your personal brand is to give them a document or to give them Send them an email or to meet with them and to tell them some of the things that you would like for them to highlight This is not at all and I repeat not at all Saying that you should tell them what to write or that like that that is not Again, unless you are clicking that, uh, the button in your common app that says like I have read, like you’ve read Letters of Recommendation, you’re not waving FERPA, like you should not at all have a say of what they write or like see their letter in advance.

But what you can do is to tell them some of the things that you would like for them to highlight if you think that, if they think that that’s reflective of their experience with you in the classroom or in activities or in whatever way that they interact with you. And so, doing that in advance just gives them an opportunity to have some, like, material to draw from as they write their letter.

Some references, and again, if this is something that you are doing ahead of time, then you have time to, like, reflect on, Okay, well, what teacher do I want to write this? What type of things do I want them to highlight about my life, about my, um, My studies about the way that I am in the classroom, the way that I am on my team.

And so, for example, for this, this example of the personal brand, that’s athleticism, uh, an athlete in global health and community service. It would probably be helpful to have a science teacher if they’re going for pre med or for a health related, uh, career, or a health related major. Probably someone in science or STEM.

Then maybe a coach as like one of the optional for, not as a teacher recommendation, but there’s, usually it’s two teachers of recommendation and you might have an optional recommender. So you might have a coach. Or if there was a class that you took that was like in sports health or something like that.

Um, or, and this is, I think, one of the most important parts, is making sure that the teacher that writes your letter of recommendation really knows you. And so, there have been a lot of students that I have advised to say, like, I could ask my teacher who taught me Calculus, and I did well in her class, but I was one of many, she didn’t really know me.

Or I could ask, like, my Spanish teacher, who I, she, like, led my debate team, and, like, I took three different classes with her, and she knows me really well. And so what I would say is, you have to let multiple letters of recommendation for a reason. It’s in the case that if you have, you know, a teacher that really can speak highly of you and has worked a lot with you, but maybe is not related at all to, like, the coursework that you do.

Uh, when a pursuing college, for example, this student was not going to pursue Spanish. Uh, then she had the chance to have that Spanish teacher to write her recommendation. And then she also had her math, her calculus teacher, right? The other one, it gave her a chance to both give a calculus teacher who could talk about how well she had done in the class.

Her experience just as a stellar student and then someone who could give an even deeper perspective about who she was as a person. Thank you. And so again, I would, starting early just gives you a chance to think more about, okay, who’s going to affirm my personal brand and who’s going to be able to actually build on it and talk more about things that maybe I wouldn’t be able to talk about without it looking like I’m just bragging.

And so, um, that is one of the things that, um, uh, or one of the other elements of your application where you can further, um, support the, the personal brand that you have decided to use.

So a final tip here on how you can best build your personal brand is, uh, and I guess I’ve said this throughout is just taking time to think about what you value, what you enjoy, what you’re passionate about, without the pressure of what sounds good to an admissions officer. I’ll tell you that admissions officers are looking for a very diverse community of people who care about lots of different things so that they could learn from each other, of people who’ve experienced lots of different things so that they can again learn to empathize with people who they might not know.

And so you never really know what an admissions officer is specifically looking at, like what, um, major they are, what group, what combination of people, because you don’t know what other students are applying in any given year, there might be for some reason, a lot of premeds applying to the same school at the same time, more than the norm, and you won’t know that, and so if you think like, oh, this school is really valuing premeds, and you’re applying as a premed, You might have a lower chance just because that year there’s a lot more people that are going with that personal brand.

And so, because that’s out of your control, I think that the best thing to do is to just be very genuine about the things that you care about, the things that you want to and know that the thing that’s going to That admissions care about most. I think that’s going to be more, um, what’s going to pop out the most is just your genuine interest and passion for something.

Um, again, when I was in college from personal experience, I met people who were very passionate about things that I would have never found to be very interesting and things that I was like, wow, I didn’t know Harvard. You know, I, I assumed again, coming with the mentality of like, Harvard is like a top school.

They’re going to like, really want like scientists and academics and like. Very STEM related things. I don’t know why that was my perspective. And then finding people who were very interested in completely different things. There’s just a wide array, array of majors and interests and people with a great diversity of experiences.

And so I would say just focus on what’s genuine and true to you and know that admissions officers will take that into account and it’s going to actually sound so much better than you trying to force. a specific personal brand that may not actually be you. Um, and then, uh, and, and I guess I, if you want to get that in a nutshell, it’s admissions officers love it when you care about things deeply and are involved, but there’s no prescribed field or topic that is looked on more favorably than another.

So I could, that kind of sums up what I just mentioned. Um, and just be yourself, do what you love, but do it deeply and intentionally. Um, and then the last tip that I would that would give here is take all the pieces of the puzzle. So your activities, your passion, your characteristics, and then just think about the clearest way to communicate them.

What is the way that you can thread the most salient identities and parts of your life in a way that that has a cohesive and memorable story? Um, and it’s okay if you don’t get to share everything. Um, again, my, uh, my personal brand, very similar to the example that I gave was that of a pre med athlete who did community service or who, who cared a lot about community service.

And so I included lots of different activities, including. Uh, volunteering and doing a shadowing program at a local hospital, taking a lot of classes in anatomy and physiology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics, biology. Um, uh, I had started like a non profit and so merging that with the non profit did things related to global health.

Um, And one of the things that even though I put in my activities list, I just didn’t get to in my essays was that I was an athlete, so I had played tennis my whole life, I did competitive tennis in the USTA league, I played with an academy, and it just didn’t fit into the essay that I was writing. And so, while I put it as one of my, um, as one of my activities, and obviously the number of hours, and the things, the words, and all the things that were associated with that, showed that I was an athlete, I couldn’t fit it into my essay without it just totally derailing the point of it, which, and, and, and, and.

I think another part of my personal brand was not just my activities, but it was that I was an immigrant from Colombia, my personal, or my identity as both a Colombian and an American, um, and what that looked like as I pursued, uh, like community service and health, and that didn’t quite translate to my experience as an athlete.

Um, and so I just didn’t include that in my essay, but it was part of, again, my overall personal brand. So I say that just to reinforce that you don’t have to put every single part of your identity or the things that you enjoy into every single part of your application and just pick and choose. Um, and I think this is one of the reasons why working with an, um, an advisor is really helpful is because they kind of help you parse out through, okay, these are all.

Things I’ve experienced, all activities that I’ve done. How can I pick and choose the ones that make sense for this specific essay, for this specific question? What are the things that I want this teacher specifically to write about or to reference as she’s writing her letter or his or her letter of recommendation?

Um, and so I would just, yeah, if you don’t get to everything for every single part of your application, that’s totally okay.

Stacey: Thanks, Maria learned a lot tonight. I hope everyone in the room did too. That is the end of the presentation part of the webinar and remember that you can download the slides. in the link in the handouts tab if you do want them. Also, I do get this question a lot. The recording will be shared after the webinar.

Moving on to the live Q& A, I’ll read through the questions you submitted in the Q& A tab if you’ve submitted them already. If you haven’t, go ahead and submit those. I’ll paste them into the public chat so you can see them, and then I’ll read them out loud before Maria can give us an answer. As a heads up to if your Q and 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.

Okay. Okay. Oh, apologies. I went ahead on the side. So there’s some great questions in the chat already. Um, let’s focus on, pivoting kind of from that point in the presentation. A really, you know, large question for you here, Maria. What if you truly don’t have what you feel is your passion aligned yet? Like let’s just say you’re a late junior or early senior.

Um, what is your advice? Where do you even begin if you don’t feel like you’ve pinned that down yet?

Maria: Yeah, and I think that’s totally okay. I think it’s actually not as common for someone to have their exact passion and even their passion evolves like My passion was medicine and senior year of college, I decided I wasn’t going to go to medical school.

And so, those are things that evolve and change and sometimes you don’t know what those are yet. But I think that it’s helpful to think about what are the things that you really enjoy doing or learning about. And I think some, some people even struggle with that question. And so the, uh, and even like level down question of that would be like, In your free time, when you don’t have somebody telling you what to do or what to study, what to read, if you were to read about something or look into something, like, what do you look into?

What are the things that, when you talk about, You know, you, like, you kind of get riled up or excited to talk about. What are the things that when you say, Oh, you know, I’d love to hear a story from a person that does this. Like, it’d be interesting to learn about what they do. And so, I would say that doesn’t mean that that will help you narrow down to one thing, but it will help you to at least get an assortment of things that you’re interested in.

I would also think back to the experiences that you’ve had in the past, where did you feel a lot of joy or meaning or fulfillment doing something that could be something very obvious like potentially community service, or it could be something like going on a run and running and something about that sparks, whether that is sports or more health related or more meditation and like thinking related or philosophy or whatever it is that that moment kind of helps you through.

And so I would say that this is not a personal brand is not equivalent to say like you figure it out what your passions or and you can readily display them and tell it to somebody else. But rather it’s a way. And again, I phrase it as an opportunity to just think. ahead of time of the things that you really enjoy doing and being able to communicate that.

Um, and if it’s helpful, uh, I know people who have done that in the past with just, um, getting a really good friend and asking them like, Hey, if you were to describe me to somebody else, like, how would you describe me? Like what, what are the things that you think I care about? The things that you think I do?

And sometimes it’s helpful to hear it from somebody else because you, I might, it might be the status quo or the norm. But for somebody else who doesn’t do the same things you do, it might be different and they can maybe pick it out more easily.

Stacey: Yeah, I actually love that last suggestion in particular. I think it’s always very surprising how others view us because you don’t often ask that question.

Um, and so that would be a great reflection exercise if you don’t know where to start. Um, but lots of great insight there. This is not an easy thing to do. I don’t, I don’t think Maria or I feel that this is an easy task by any means. Um, so don’t feel. You know, as though you were very behind because you haven’t given a lot of thought to this, um, it might not be something that you’ve gotten a lot of guidance on throughout your high school career.

And so, um, we’re really hoping we can give you that guidance here today. So, Maria, kind of along the same lines, when is it too late and too early to get started and in building your college brand? Do you think that there’s a moment that is too late? Um, any.

Maria: That’s a really good question. I don’t think that there is a moment that Too late, unless you’ve already submitted all your applications.

And even then there’s potential for. thinking about your personal brand for an interview. Um, but I think that it’s never, it’s, it’s never too late. I think it’s never too early to just think about the things that you love and care about. Maybe it’s too early to think of, there are moments where it’s too early to think about it as a personal brand for college applications, right?

Like if you’re a five year old, you should just be thinking about what you enjoy doing and the things that bring you joy. And, um, And the things that you want to learn and not just what would help you get into college or what you want to write about in your applications. But I think that as you start high school and as you see different people, as you start getting involved in different activities and as you start thinking more about.

You know, where you might want to go to college. I think those are good opportunities to start just building, uh, just a set or a list of things that you would include as what you would say is like your personal brand. And, and I think even personal brand like that, that taught, it just sounds a little bit impersonal, but really what it is, is just.

A key group of characteristics and things that you say like, Hey, these are my, my most salient identities, my favorite things to do. And I think when you think about it like that, it’s so much more approachable and easy to think about than when you think about like, okay, what is gonna be my brand? Like there’s an entire profession to helping people figure out like their personal brand, and that’s public relations and, and marketing and all these things that are.

Just a lot more in depth. I would say think about it if you’re having trouble with that personal brand language Just think about it as like, you know If I had one sentence or max two sentences to tell somebody like who I am and what I what I like doing What would be the key things I would write in there?


Stacey: Yeah, thank you so much. That was incredibly helpful so Again, staying on this personal brand, um, line of thinking, we are all about personal brand tonight. Does your personal brand have to align with your major? How does it work if you feel like your brand isn’t aligning with your major?

Maria: Yeah, so I think that can be a little tricky, but it’s not impossible or wrong.

Um, it can be a little tricky because you’re trying to say. You know, like this is genuinely who I am and it’s, I want to explore something different in college than, than what the thing that I think are my personal brand. And I think that when that happens, like usually I think it’s good to practice giving some evidence for what you want to study.

Like if it’s something completely different, that doesn’t match some of the experiences you’ve had before, like what led you to that? And maybe part of that, maybe you discover that there is something in your personal brand that helps you to explain that. Um, maybe it’s just you want to explore something completely different and it’s because you’re curious and intellect, you’re intellectually curious, you like to explore.

And that in itself is a characteristic you could include in your personal brand. And if you are, you know, making the leap of, of studying something or wanting to study something completely different, then you’ve probably built that muscle of doing something different. And you can find examples of moments where you’ve done new things, uh, in your life that you could use as evidence for.

This characteristics of being, um, curious and adventurous. Um, and so I would say they’re not mutually exclusive in that way. Like you can definitely talk about that. Um, I would also advise that, you know, thinking out what you really like doing, like maybe doesn’t fit with the things that you want to study, but it might fit some of the activities that you want to continue in college.

And so it doesn’t have to just be about your major. It could also be about the activities and the things you want to be involved with once you’re in college.

Stacey: Yeah, it definitely is a tricky line to navigate. And I think another, you know, key insight as a former admissions officer is to make sure you’re not so, so focused on getting all of this information out about you that your narrative becomes muddy.

Um, I know Maria talked about this, you know, making your narrative clear, concise, and to the point, including relevant information where it’s relevant, answering essay prompts. The way they’re meant to be answered instead of trying to, you know, put in every little bit of detail about yourself. It’s important to have, you know, a strategy going into the application process.

And part of that is understanding what you’re going to include, but also what you’re going to exclude. Um, and so definitely something to consider as you move into. That college application journey. Um, and also know that there’s also there’s a lot of opportunity on the application to highlight your passions while also highlighting your career goals.

Um, and those 2 things can complement each other in various ways. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with any. I actually don’t have any to recommend Maria. So I want to ask this of you in case you have recommendations. Are there platforms or online resources that can help someone to develop their personal brand?

Have you ever used something like that? I haven’t the

Maria: closest thing again, as platform is asking a friend. Um, but I did see in the chat that someone put. A link to, um, a test. And again, this is a link that someone else has shared. It’s a participant outside of CollegeAdvisor. Um, but that’s a public forum where folks can.

Um, look at what other questions have been asked. And so, um, I know that there’s like a, a, a link there if folks wanna, um, take a look. But even apart from that link, there is tons of, if you just Google strengths test or like career tests, like there’s a variety of different, um, tests that you can take where.

You’re pretty much just answering questions about things you enjoy, things that you like to do, things that you’re good at. Um, and again, I, I don’t know of any that are actually sponsored or supported by CollegeAdvisor, but that is an open, uh, like, Google search that you can do to just, uh, think more about that, um, and get a sense of, you know, For maybe a strength that could lead to a career or something in the academic realm.

I would say a personal brand is a lot more than that, right? It’s a unique reflection of your background and your passions and those things. But that can help potentially to at least get you thinking about questions related to career and your strength.

Stacey: Yeah, and on that note, you know, there are, um, it’s not, they’re not necessarily platforms for building your brand, right.

But Maria alluded to these personality tests that exist. Um, 16 personalities is a very popular one, um, where it gives some output on your personality, but also as that relates to different aspects of your life, including your career. Um, so that’s one that might. Be fun to take, but CollegeAdvisor, I don’t think CollegeAdvisor does have specific resources in this regard, but U.

S. news, um, usually has some great quizzes around career guidance and college fit. So, definitely look into those resources as well. I do want to take a moment for we turn back over to the rest of the Q and a to highlight a really great question. Opportunity for you all. Uh, so CollegeAdvisors team of over 300 former admissions officers and admissions experts is ready to help you and your family navigate the college admissions process in one on one advising sessions.

We’ve already helped over 6,000 clients in their college journeys. And after analyzing our data since 2021, we have found that CollegeAdvisor students are 3.6 times more likely to get into Stanford, 4.1 times more likely to get into Vanderbilt University, and 2.7 times more likely to get into Harvard University.

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

Um, that QR code is going to stay here on the next slide while we continue to answer some Q and a, uh, and so definitely take advantage of that opportunity. We’re going to flip to maybe some more specific questions about the application process. If that’s okay, Maria, um, the 1st question is actually about scholarships and I know you had your own QuestBridge journey.

Um, can you give insight into the timeline? for looking into scholarships, what you would recommend in terms of scholarship research and when you should start strategizing and preparing for that?

Maria: Yeah, so I started thinking about that junior year just because I knew that there were some that were, um, as early as senior fall and so I wanted to make sure that if there was essays involved, if there was letters of recommendation, that I kind of had that set up before I started Or especially if there’s anything that my school needed to do.

I wanted to have a sense of what needed to happen before I went to, before I left for the summer. And then during the summer, I wanted to make sure I use that time to, again, think about what I wanted to do, what I wanted to write, maybe start writing some of the essays. And so I think a great like mile marker is doing it your junior year so that you have time over the summer to write any essays if you, if you need them.

Um, and I think that Finding time to just make a list of different scholarship opportunities won’t hurt because then you also have that already for your senior year. Um, and there’s a lot of things that you have to juggle as a senior and so it’s probably better to at least get some of that like head start your junior year.

Stacey: Yeah, I agree. I don’t, I, it has to be an organized process to some degree. A lot of colleges will offer in house aid of some kind. So not, you don’t have to apply to all the scholarships in the world, but if you’re hoping for outside support, it’s good to start early and to stay organized about it. I typically advise, uh, keeping, like you said, a spreadsheet of some kind, some kind of organization and.

Aiming once you collect a list aiming to complete an application, you know, once a week of some kind and you know, you can’t play if you don’t win. So that’s usually good advice all around. So let’s flip over to essays in your experience. Maria, are there essay topics that students should be avoiding? Are there any, you know, taboo topics or red flags?

Maria: Yeah, so I think that it’s I think that there are specific ways of approaching the essay and potentially some topics that are could be taboo. So for example, like things that are blatantly inappropriate to talk about in, in, in any setting, and especially in a, in a school setting or in an academic setting, things that could either be disparaging or disrespectful about, Other people or groups of people like things like that that I think is not necessarily what students are asking But I just want to cover those bases of like things that definitely should not be talked about in an as part of your essay Especially if you’re the one holding like those opinions But I think that the the more common maybe like taboo or error in In this area is the way that you approach the essay and so I think that, like, some of the, some of the shortcomings there could be, like, if you’re approaching an essay that talks about, like, difficulties, difficulties in your life in a way that just sounds like, um, Like a sob story where like you really want the admissions officer to feel like you’ve just had like a terrible life and like you deserve to get into this school.

It’s just like you need to be, you know, you just need a break. Someone needs to like, um, yeah, uh, that more like approach that highlights the negative and the ways that, um, yeah, the negative instead of the ways that you’ve overcome that adversity. And so I would kind of just. When talking about difficulties in your life be honest about the things that have happened And the and you don’t have to hold back in terms of like well I can’t talk about like grief or being distraught or negative emotions Like that’s not at all what i’m saying, but rather to mention those but always to bring in Like, okay, well, how did that, how has that shaped who you are now?

How were you able to, if not overcome obstacles? Because not every obstacle can be overcome. Like if there is a death in the family, if something difficult happened like that, like there isn’t always this like, oh, well, you know, this entirely redeeming quality, but more so like, well, how did you change? Or you learn how are you able to process that and how has that helped you become the person that you are today?

And so focusing on those things and especially in moments where there are triumphs or things that you have been able to surpass Focusing on not just like again thinking, going, going the other pendulum swing and talking about like how strong you are hard. Now you can, you’re invincible and can like deal with any problem, but maintaining the humility to share, like how difficult that was, how difficult that could be to other people and how You overcame or how you were able to grow and how you might help other people who are going through similar things and so Those are all different ways of approaching the same topic of difficulty or struggles in life And again that topic isn’t taboo, but there’s different ways of approaching it that could harm your application or could just give the wrong impression of who you are another example of that could be like, um When people talk about, um, like a particular passion and that becomes the only thing that they talk about such that it just becomes like this is their one identity, there’s nothing else to this person, like, and that often comes from the wrong impression that a student has that an admissions officer wants to really just, you know, get a person that like is very passionate, very involved in this one topic and that becomes their full identity.

The end. Actually, most admissions officers want to create a very diverse community with folks who have a variety of experiences. And so just being genuine about other things in your life, instead of just thinking like you need to really prove that you are like the future lawyer or the future politician or the future sociologist or athlete.

Um, and so those are kind of two main taboos. But Stacey, I’m sure that you’ve seen all many others. And so I’ll pass it off to you to talk about. Any that you’ve seen.

Stacey: Yeah, I mean, I actually love your phrasing of the second challenge is you don’t want to be so one note that there’s not much more going on with your application.

And so, um, it doesn’t give the committee actually full insight into who you are as a person. And that’s actually 1 that I don’t hear often, Maria. So I really appreciate you bringing that to the forefront. The negativity is also really common concern. It’s not that those experiences are not important to you as a person.

And I have to advise a lot of students out of the negative or the two personal anecdotes, um, and move toward meaningful, impactful experiences. And the key, like Maria is saying is reflection. You do need to have that reflection. And A lesson learned or a moment of growth right that when you’re when you’re writing an essay, you always want to ask the question.

So what? So what does this mean? Why am I telling the admission doctor? What does that mean for me and my future? My education, my career because a beautiful story is a beautiful story. But if it doesn’t tell the admissions officer anything important about you in terms of their decision around your application, that’s not a useful essay for anyone, including yourself.

I will tell you that there are some common essay topics that are more. You know, overdone. And one of those is the sports essay. So, you know, um, I went in, it was a really hard game. I ended up winning at the end of it, whatever that looks like. That is a very, very common essay topic. So if you’re looking for something to stand out, I would perhaps avoid, um, you know, the overcoming the sports challenge.

Um, Uh, narrative, um, because that is that is also a very common one that we see. Um, Maria, anything else to add?

Maria: No, I, I, even the sports 1 that you just mentioned is 1 that I have also noticed, um, uh, that 1 and then actually the, um. Oh, sorry, actually two that came up that I just recently remembered is the international missions trip or service trip, where students feel like they’ve gone on a one week or two week trip to another country, and all of a sudden, like, their, like, whole world has changed and, like, they view, they understand diversity and other cultures and, like, I think, like, a lot of those essays, unfortunately, like, a week or two is just not enough to really learn about someone else’s, like, Very different culture and to be aware of the ways in which that from which folks experience different things all over the world and so especially when it comes to a service trip where Folks with power are going into places that need help or aid and that dynamic, that power dynamic there.

So I think what you don’t want to give the impression is like a saviorism complex of going somewhere and like helping people and feeling like now you are, you know, you, you, you’re ready to be a doctor or you’re ready to be like whatever service profession you want to go into. And so I think that’s another shortfall that I’ve actually had several students And then the other one is like a conference, um, for some reason for students who, well, it’s a great experience to go to a conference and to meet new people.

Um, there’s so many interesting things that happen outside of a potentially two to three day, even a one week conference that has shaped who you are. And when you focus your entire essay on the experience of meeting people and learning about things in a conference, um, that just, um, Kind of takes away the space to talk about lots of other things and so if you’re talking about a conference or a special event That happened a short period of time.

I would include it in a broader essay and not make it the main topic

Stacey: Awesome. Yeah, and I I hear us, you know giving you a lot of information about what not to write about But the key here is to write about something that is meaningful for you in your life Um, something that drives you as a person don’t focus on.

I think something that it prohibits students from writing freely is looking left and right and reading a bunch of essays online and trying to emulate those essays the best strategy and don’t get me wrong. There’s some value in that because there, you know, might be some. Um, guidance that you can get and how the typical essay is written.

But your essay is your essay. Your essay is unique to you. Your essay is the one that hasn’t been written yet. And if you’re going to write a meaningful essay and a powerful essay, it’s usually best to do that with somewhat of blinders on, um, when it comes to comparing yourself to other people, right? Um, and so I would try to avoid that and just simply be true to the things that are most important to you and also your voice.

Make sure your voice is coming out in that essay. Say, um, So, I know that we’ve talked a lot about essays now, let’s continue on with some of the Q and a, um, so Maria, and I, I, I want to phrase this in a little bit different of a way, but there’s a question in the chat about, um, a recommended number of hours you would spend on an activity and whether or not.

Given how many hours you’re spending on the activity, should you include it on your application? I think a better question would likely be, how do you, if you only have so many spots for activities, which is usually the case on most applications, how do you narrow that down? And is hours one hours dedicated one of the factors you would consider?

Oh, Maria, we can’t hear you. Oh, sorry. Is this

Maria: for the activities list only or for what you would include in, like, an essay?

Stacey: Or both? I don’t know if it was specified. I think it’s most It sounds like the activity section is mostly what they’re referring to here.

Maria: Okay. So what I would say is thinking about I think there’s, like, a couple different Uh, like litmus test that you can use for, uh, how to, how to view this one is just like where you spend most of your time and what would be just more impressive in terms of like you really committed and you’ve done a lot in this and so those would probably be near to the top, uh, some that are, you have a lot of leadership or experience, uh, not just being part of something, but designing something or leading others in it, or, um, yeah, having more of like that leadership component, I would also put those near the top.

And then the ones where you’ve generally found like a lot of joy and passionate in such in a way that it has either led you to share it with others, or it could potentially be part of your career path. Those I would put at the top as well. And so if maybe that describes all 10, then I would think a little bit more about how to mix them up.

So maybe you have one that is very. heavy in terms of like it shows a lot of commitment, hence a lot of the hours. Maybe you have one that shows more about like how you’re a leader and how you are, um, yeah, leading others. And then maybe another one that’s like more tied to your passions and what you want to do after college or after high school.

And so that’s kind of how we mix it up, like giving a mix of those. But at least I know there’s a lot of folks who just do a lot of activities because they’re interesting, but maybe doesn’t fit any of those three criteria. I would include those. I would just include those at the bottom. Um, and for those that don’t hit any of those three main, main, um, criteria, again, if you put them at the bottom and there’s still like more than 10, then I would just cut the ones that have like.

you have the least interest in you were maybe not as involved in terms of hours and ones that where you were like very close to being in leadership. Um, and so if you use those three, I think it helps to at least eliminate or bring down narrow down the ones that you want to keep in the list and the ones that you want to bring to the top.

Stacey: Yeah, it’s not an easy thing to do, but I think it’s important to know early for those of you who are early in your high school career. That you shouldn’t act quote unquote activity collect because you aren’t going to be able to talk about it all. You’re not going to be able to include it all. So I remember agonizing over a decision of whether or not to do a certain summer activity.

And the reality was I didn’t have room to include that on my application anyway. So, um, try to avoid the stress of, am I doing enough and really focus on the quality of the activities, right? Um, and that will guide. Which activities you ultimately end up including. Um, so one more question here in the chat that I see Maria.

Um, what are some more clear ways that someone could clearly, sorry, I’m repeating myself, clearly verbalize their personal brand? in their application prior to resume and essay development. So I’m guessing in order to rephrase this, what they’re getting at is if you haven’t even looked at your activities and you haven’t even written your essays, how can you work toward verbalizing what your personal brand is?

And this actually is related to a question that I was going to ask you, Maria, is how does the personal brand relate to your interview process, which is quite literally you verbalizing your Personal brand. Um, thoughts on that question.

Maria: Yeah. So I think that, um, one of like the slides I talked about in the main presentation was about just taking the time to think about, like, what are the things that you enjoy, the things that you’re passionate about, like who you are and your, your most salient identities.

And so I would say that before you get to your resume or your. Your, um, essay, like those are ways that again, don’t really show up in your application. Like it’s not like they’re going to ask you, like, give us a one sentence personal brand or like a proposal of your personal brand. Like those again. So, so this period of, and to think about this and understand what you would write and say, I think is just a very crucial, like overhead, like a foundation that you can do that will then spill over to all those other things.

I guess, like, if you want something tangible out of that, like, again, think about potentially quote unquote interviewing your friends and family. Asking them like what they think you’re good at, what you’ve done. Like some of the main experience or things that they think about when they think about you, um, going through that process yourself and like asking yourself those types of questions.

Like, what do I enjoy doing? What do I do in my free time? Like, how do I like to help people? Like, what are some of, and thinking about it in that structure that I gave in that slide of the, about the overarching values, characteristics and passions that you have. Then narrowing it down to like, well, what are some activities or examples of when I’ve done that?

Or if you want to flip that structure and just think about what are examples of things where I did something that I really loved or where I felt fulfilled or where I felt joy. Um, and again, that doesn’t answer, like, where in your application it goes, because it’s not really, like, it’s a specific, um, like, portion of your application, but rather it’s something that, again, seeps into, like, then your essays, your activities list, your letters of recommendation.

Um, and then, Stacey, you, you had a second, like, kind of follow up tag on question to that.

Stacey: The, sorry, the interview process, um, any tips, and I know we only have a minute more here, but any quick tips around how to incorporate that?

Maria: Yeah, I would say, I mean, it’s pretty much that. So practicing with friends when you’re getting ready for interviews and having them ask you questions about yourself, and then you being able to just practice answering, like, how to talk about yourself in a way that’s clear and has a, again, a clear narrative and some examples.

Um, and I think the, the best way. It’s kind of the, the accumulation or the, the, the follow up to this process of like thinking about it is being able to communicate it and that’s essentially like Stacey said your, um, your interview and so practicing with friends is going to be really helpful.

Stacey: Amazing.

Well, that is all we have time for. Um, thank you to everyone for coming out today. And thank you to Maria. Our wonderful panelists learned so much today. Um, that is the end of the webinar. We had a really great time telling you all about building your personal brand for college admissions. Here is our October webinar series.

We have a big month coming up full of really great topics. Um, so definitely check those out, sign up for some more. Um, and we hope that you all have a great rest of your days. Thank you so much, Maria. Thank you. Have a good night. Have a good one, everyone.