College Essay Mistakes When Writing About Yourself

Do you feel overwhelmed by the thought of writing a captivating college essay? We understand that crafting a personal statement can be a challenging task, and that’s why we’re here to help! Join us for “College Essay Mistakes When Writing About Yourself.”

In this webinar, admissions expert Anna Vande Velde will dive deep into the do’s and don’ts of writing a compelling college essay that truly showcases your unique personality, strengths, and aspirations. She will explore common pitfalls that many applicants stumble upon, and more importantly, learn how to avoid them.

During the webinar, you’ll discover:

  • Understanding the Admissions Perspective: Gain an insider’s perspective into what college admission officers are looking for in a personal essay and what can set your essay apart from the rest.
  • Unveiling Common Mistakes: Explore the most common essay pitfalls students encounter, such as clichés, generic storytelling, and overused themes. Learn how to spot and avoid these traps.
  • Crafting Authentic Narratives: Discover the art of weaving a genuine and unique narrative that showcases your personality, experiences, and passions effectively.
  • The Power of Your Voice: Learn how to find your authentic voice and let it shine through in your writing, making your essay engaging and memorable.
  • Turning Weaknesses into Strengths: Understand how to approach sensitive topics or personal challenges in your essay while conveying resilience and growth.
  • Editing and Revising Tips: Get practical tips on reviewing, editing, and refining your essay to make it stand out and reflect your best self.
  • Q&A Session: Towards the end of the webinar, we’ll have a live Q&A session, where you can ask questions and receive guidance from our expert panel.

Don’t miss this invaluable opportunity to gain confidence in your college essay writing abilities. Register now for our “College Essay Mistakes When Writing About Yourself” webinar and embark on your journey to create a captivating essay that opens the doors to your dream college!

Date 08/07/2023
Duration 1:00:34

Webinar Transcription

2023-08-07 – College Essay Mistakes When Writing About Yourself

Hi everyone. My name is Juliana Furigay, and I’m your webinar moderator today. Welcome to “College Essay Mistakes When Writing About Yourself.” So to orient everyone with a webinar timing, we’re gonna 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 also start submitting questions in the Q&A tab.

Now let’s meet our panelists. Hi everyone. My name is Anna Vande Verde. I am a senior advisor here at CollegeAdvisor. I’ve been here a couple years now. I graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 2015 with a bachelor’s in psychology and from Harvard Law School in 2021.

Sorry Juliana. I was trying. No worries. But now it’s time for a poll for all of you here. So what grade is everyone in? And in the meantime, Anna, I would love to ask you, could you tell me about your favorite course that you took in your undergrad at Carnegie Mellon? Oh, ooh. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but one of my favorites was a class I really didn’t wanna take and I was mad at Carnegie Mellon for making me take, and it was a programming class.

I thought that was ridiculous. I was a psych major. Why did I need to learn how to do that? It was very useful and opened my mind to new way of thinking. So, you know, when you’re in college, you get the opportunity to take a class that’s maybe outside of your major or something you. Think you will.

Hey, I encourage you to just give it a try. Yes, I definitely agree with that. I think it’s always good to stay open-minded. But in terms of the pull results, it looks like a large percentage of you guys are actually seniors right now. 73% are, and we have 1% are freshmen, 3% are sophomores, and 19% are juniors.

So I’m closing that poll right now, and now we’ll start the presentation. Awesome. Well, it’s helpful to know a bit about who’s here. So we are here to talk about college essays. So a natural starting place is what type of college essays are there given the number of seniors we have here. A lot of you may have already done some of this research, but just to go over it, just in case, you will have to write a personal statement which is around one page, 650 words.

And that, you know, a lot of people focus on like a big picture. Who are you? What’s your story? This webinar is not about this, but a lot of applications you will submit through the common app. So you’ll write one personal statement. They’ll go to a bunch of different colleges. The Common App, I think has like eight to nine questions that you can pick for your personal statement.

And they are all very open-ended. So there’s a lot you can do in that essay. Some colleges also require supplemental essays. These are usually a little more specific, so they might ask about your chosen major or why that school they might be more vague, for example. Is there anything else you want us to know about you?

They’re generally shorter than a personal statement. I, so, okay. Why are college essays important? College essays are my favorite. Thing to work on with students. There’s such a great opportunity to capture things that you cannot get in that application anywhere else. So things like your voice, your personality, any unique like, experiences, stories you can start to see that in an application from someone’s extracurricular list.

But those descriptions are so short that it’s hard to really get to the core of you and who you are the way you can do it in an essay. These are also a really good place to explain anything you think might need explaining if you have a gap in your extracurriculars. If you’re grade steps for a semester and you wanna explain why an essay is a really good place to do that.

I’m also aware that this is maybe one of the most intimidating parts for a lot of students about the college application process. So I try and encourage all of my students take a deep breath, it’s gonna be okay, and it’s okay to go slow at first. Take the time to really think about different ideas. Anytime you think about something that could potentially grow into an essay, write it down on your phone, on a piece of paper, whatever works so that you don’t forget.

Because then we’ve all had that experience of having a great idea and then waking up the next day and being like, oh no, what was it? So write it down. Things to be ruminating on as sort of jumping off coins for essays, any like. Interesting anecdotes. And they don’t have to be, they don’t have to be this big exciting thing, like, you won an award or you built something.

I once had a student write an essay, and her starting off point was her dad made a comment about someone not using common sense, a very ordinary moment, but for this client that sparked something in her. She was like, wait, but what, what even is common sense? And then she realized she has this big interest in philosophy and she got there from that little moment.

So don’t be afraid to, to explore the possibility of like, you know, smaller seeming moments. Also think about who and what has shaped you and why. The why is gonna be the most important thing to answer there. As you’re brainstorming and thinking about these ideas and writing them down so you don’t forget, you’re gonna wanna keep in mind this personal narrative and the candidate profile, which again, this webinar is not about, but I know we have others focused on that.

Basically you want a brand for yourself that the college is gonna read in your application. So one to three themes. Let’s tie your whole story and application together. You’re gonna wanna make sure that your essay really highlights those and, and brings them together.

So this is a suggested timeline. I don’t want anyone to feel super stressed if you are not exactly where we suggest here. But in general, I. You know, your junior year, end of junior year is a great time to start that brainstorming process. We were talking about writing down ideas, thinking about different moments, or people who have shaped you.

Then, you know, the summer after junior year, it’s a great time to start writing. You still have a lot of time to refine it, so I think the pressure feels a little lower. So, like right now, if school hasn’t started yet, could be a great time for all you seniors to just give it a shot, draft something and then, you know, you’ll finalize and prepare to write your supplemental essays.

I also, this isn’t on here, but I would encourage you early ahead, early in the process. So like right now, if you’re seniors To research all the schools on your list and somewhere in an Excel sheet or somewhere. Keep track of what schools have supplementals and what schools don’t and what those are.

Just so you’re not coming up on deadlines and like finding any surprises about, oh no, there’s a whole other essay after to write. And then you can use that first semester senior year to really workshop and refine and get feedback and go through this iterative, iterative process.

What makes a good essay? I say this 10 times a day probably. When you can show me, don’t tell me. So put the reader in your shoes. Here’s an example from a student essay. It started out, one of their first drafts said, I’ve always loved the smell of oil and gas. Okay. Descriptive. I’m interested. That’s not something that I like the smell of, so I do wanna learn more.

I challenged the student though, to tell me more of a story. Like, show me what you mean, instead of saying, I’ve always loved this smell. So this is what they came back with. With some edits, legs dangling out, wrench in hand, the strong smell of gas and oil, and an adrenaline rush as I learned how each part worked and how I could make the car even better.

So right there, right at the beginning, legs dangling out wrench in hand. I, I can see that I, I can imagine myself in their situation under the car. And it’s a much more illustrative way of, of communicating. So another thing that makes a good essay is sharing things that can’t be easily captured elsewhere.

We talked about that earlier. Making sure every word counts. I see sometimes students will kind of repeat a point because it’s really important to them. And so I would challenge you to go through and with each sentence ask yourself, is this adding something new? Have I already said it? If you’ve already said it, consider if you can condense that or take it out and that will give you room to expand elsewhere.

What makes a good essay? At the end of the day, if you forget, everything else is the essay needs to tell us about you and it needs to sound like you. So those ss a t words that we all learn that we don’t use in real life, save those for the s a t. It’s important to know them then. Before your application essays, we wanna hear you and what you sound like.

Alright, thank you so much Anna. And it’s actually time for our second poll, everyone. So I’m wondering where are you in the application process? And Anna, in the meantime, I would love to ask you what did you write your common app personal statement about back in the day? Ooh, back in the day for undergrad, I wrote about a pretty personal family struggle.

And that, that’s something I get asked about a lot as an advisor, if it’s okay to go there. Yes it is. If you’re bringing your voice and your honest experience It was very helpful to me and important in my process that I got a lot of feedback on it just to see how it was landing and if my point was coming across.

So that’s what I wrote about for undergrad and then for law school I tried to make my story make sense ’cause I was psychology and I was going towards clinical psych and then all of a sudden I sort of shifted to law school. So I had to work hard to tell this really cohesive story of how I’d gotten to where I was.

Great, thank you for sharing that with us. And now it’s time for me to close this poll. So it looks like the majority of you guys are currently working on your essays at 41%. 9% haven’t started the process yet. 33% are in the process of researching schools. And 16% are getting their application materials together and 2% are actually almost done with their applications.

So closing that poll and going back to the presentation, that is awesome. Thank you all for sharing. Kudos to you for wherever you are in the process and kudos to you for being here. ’cause that means you are engaged in starting. So some common mistakes that students make when they’re writing about themselves.

The first is sort of this just like lack of any narrative or like a consistent brand. Folks who are reading applications. Are reading hundreds a day and they’re reading them quickly. So that means it’s really important to ask yourself at the start of this process, what do I want them to remember about me and about my application after they spend a couple of minutes skimming through it.

That’s why it’s so important to have these themes in this brand sort of figured out for yourself. Another kind of mistake I see is students write about really, really impressive accomplishments, and it reads a bit like a grocery list. It reads like the activities, the extracurricular section of your application.

That’s good for that section, but for your essay, we need to bring something new, something they can’t get anywhere else from the application. We need to tell a story. So that’s a really important thing to keep in mind. Another thing, and I have struggled with this my whole life, I love writing and it’s a vulnerable thing to ask someone else to read what you’ve written, and it’s so, so important.

And it’s just, it’s part of the process. Professional authors do this. We have to ask for feedback, be open to making changes, and this is why it’s great that so many have started. If you prepare ahead, that gives you time for multiple rounds of revisions, which I think makes those revisions a little less stressful. If we still have like a lot of time before they’re due.

Okay, so how do we do that? How do we revise and refine I think we’ve all reached a point with things we’ve written where it’s like, if it’s not making sense to me anymore, like I cannot read this one more time today, my brain is done. Listen to that. Take time away. Go outside, take a nap, come back the next day.

So when you need space from your essay, take it. And then when you come back with fresher eyes, ask yourself like, are are my themes clear? Is this adding anything to my application? Or is it reiterating things that are already there? Read it out loud, which is also, I think, a really vulnerable thing to do, even if you’re alone in a room.

But that will help you answer the question, does this sound like me? And then this is a little bit of a pet peeve of mine and I think can really change an essay for the better, is to watch out for passive language. So instead of saying I was running to the beach, you could say, I ran to the beach. Or running to the beach.

I saw X, Y, or Z. Just a more active way of writing. It’s more engaging for your readers. And like I said on the last slide, ask others, family, friends, teachers, advisors, whoever for feedback. Not just grammatical, but you know, does this make sense? Does this sound like me? You can be very specific with the questions you ask.

It’s very appropriate to ask anyone, can you read this? And what I’m really interested in knowing is, does this sound like me or what themes do you think I’m trying to get across? The more specific feedback you ask or the more helpful feedback you’ll get.

All right, so everyone, that’s the end of the presentation, part of the webinar. I hope you found this information to be 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 session. How it’s gonna work is I’ll read through the questions that you submitted in the Q&A tab and submitted prior and paste them into the public chat so you can see.

And I’ll also read them out loud before our panelists. Anna, Anna here, gives you an answer. And as a heads up, if your Q&A tab isn’t allowing you to submit questions, just double check that you join the webinar through the custom link in your email and not from the webinar landing page. And the first question that I’ll throw your way, Anna, is one that was submitted prior to this session, and it’s how can you best support a student when they’re feeling so overwhelmed by how many essays they have to write?

That they are just procrastinating writing pretty much any of them. So just general advice you have for starting off with writing your college admissions essays? Yes. I have always thought as someone who loves writing, that the hardest, the hardest sentence you’ll ever write is the first one. So if all you do on a day is write a draft opening sentence, celebrate that when you come back the next day.

Hopefully that makes it a little easier. I also am a big, big fan of recycling written materials. So like we, like I mentioned earlier, a lot of schools have supplemental essays. Those questions may vary a bit from school to school, but you are probably gonna find some overlap. So. I encourage students to keep a copy of everything.

If you start writing an essay and then decide like, no, this doesn’t work for this prompt, I’m gonna write something else. Don’t just delete it. Say that. Maybe you’ll be able to use it on a different supplemental essay, or maybe you’ll be able to take one of your Cornell supplemental essays and just modify it a little bit for your Berkeley supplemental.

So this is another reason why having the list of essays early in advance, having done that research, might help you feel a little calmer if you, if you read through them and really ask yourself like, okay, how many of these are similar? Will I be able to recycle? And then just go one at a time. If we, if we enter this process thinking, Ugh, I have eight essays to write, that’s, that’s an overwhelming place to start.

So I’d pick one. Start with one sentence and then sort of trust the process. And since we have a lot of seniors on this call we have some students that are wondering, what advice do you have for balancing general senior year academics and other responsibilities with your college applications? It’s hard.

It’s hard. And I know students today are, I think, busier than ever. And find what works for you. And that’s going to be really good practice for college, where you’re also going to have a lot to balance classes, clubs. So for me, having an agenda, the list of like things I want to do for the week is helpful.

I also make a daily list I, I have had to challenge myself to be reasonable in that daily list. So I’m not gonna write 8,000 things on that list and then feel demoralized at the end of the day that I didn’t do them. Those are two things that work for me. I think when it comes to time management, we all have to do a lot of trial and error and just see what works.

So don’t be afraid to try new things and you will be a better college student because of it if you try it. Now, we also received a couple of questions here specifically in regard to the Common app essay. So knowing that the upper limit is 650 words, you know, what’s important to include and what advice would you also have for cutting down if a student is over that limit? Yeah. Okay. So what’s important to include?

I. I think that comes back to the brand and figuring out what story you want to tell here and what you want to convey about yourself. In terms of cutting it down, I tell my students Right, right, right, right, right, right. Like if the first essay you bring me is a thousand words, great, we have so many words to work with.

I think it’s a lot easier to cut down than to write an essay that you feel great about, but it’s 300 words which is probably a little too short for the common app. So for cutting it down, that, that’s where that iterative process comes in, where you ask people to read it, where you go through and ask with each sentence, am I adding something new? It is a process. It’s not a, I’m gonna sit down in one night and write this essay and be done with it. Definitely the iterative process is very important with college essays.

The next question that I would love to ask you is as for the college supplemental essays, how do you make sure that your supplement is specific enough to the school and portraying that you, what you want to convey also in such little words? Even less than the 650 usually. Yeah, they are usually shorter.

And I think there’s one school that has like a one, a 50 word question, which is so short. Stanford maybe. Yeah, I think my answer is about the same. So remember some of the supplemental essays, some of those questions are really specific and some are not. But if it’s specific about the school or about the program The more you can show you’ve done your research, like deep research, the better.

So if you can talk about a specific professor maybe the research they’re doing you know, something a little more than like, I saw, I don’t know, a TV show about your school or something, like, something that shows you’ve put in time and energy. That’s good. And then ask people, am I answering this question?

Ask yourself, take time away. Come back to it. So I am, I’m doing the advice I’ve given you, which is recycling some of my words from before because I think they’re so important and I think they, they’re applicable. Great, thank you. And we also have some students that submitted questions prior in regard to concerns around sounding cliche in their essays.

So are there any topics that are you, as you would say, overdone in common app essays, and would you suggest to avoid them? And if not, how would you suggest to make an essay sound unique and different when it’s a topic that has been done before? Yeah, I don’t think any topic is off limits and I don’t, I don’t see any topic as being overdone.

The way you make an essay, even if it’s a very commonly used topic, unique is by bringing your voice, because all of our voices are unique. So I do tend to advise against like cliche phrases. Every word counts. And that cliche phrase is not capturing your voice. But besides that, I don’t think there’s any topics that are overdone. It, it comes to writing style and to making sure your essay sounds like you. And another thing you can do in addition to just reading it out loud, and this is even more vulnerable, is record yourself reading it out loud and then listen back to it. And I think that’ll really help you see like, okay, does this sound like me at all?

And of course we’re going to write a bit different than how we talk with our friends when we’re hanging out at the park, right? So there’s a certain level of formality that we wanna make sure is there, and we can still bring our unique voice to a professional setting. I see a couple of you guys have submitted in the chat a lot of questions in regard to the Why US supplemental essay.

So I was wondering if we could go back to that specifically. Some students are wondering if you’ve never been able to tour a school, how are you able to write a, you know, specific why us supplemental essay? Yeah. I wrote in one of my essays, my supplemental essay I had read a book by a professor who taught at Carnegie Mellon and I wrote about that I had visited campus, but I could have written that essay without having visited.

I think especially today in this like global interconnected world, there are so many ways you can find a connection to a place without physically being there. It, it may take more time, more research but you can do it and also take a step back because you put this school on your list. Why? Right?

Like genuinely, why is it on your list? There’s gotta be something about it. Hopefully it’s more than just the fact that it’s prestigious, right? Like why, why is it on your list in the first place? Answer that question and then find, you know, like the research to sort of back that up, if that makes sense.

And Anna, earlier you mentioned cliche phrases that students should avoid. Could you provide any examples of those? Lemme think. So like, think outside of the box. I’m trying to think

like, this one’s maybe extra cliche, but like, teamwork makes the dream work. Anything that you may have read on, like a poster on a classroom wall. Unless there’s like a really good reason to include it, if you’re just including it to show, like, to make the point that’s in the expression, I would just take it out.

Sorry, I can’t think of better examples off the top of my head, but I’ll keep ruminating. Yes, no worries. So we have a student here that’s wondering, is it okay to talk about an experience from elementary school if it does relate to something that you did later in life, or is that event just too far in the past?

So basically, what timeline are you able to talk about events? Yeah. Nothing is like a topic you can’t write about. So if something happened to you in elementary school and you still remember it, first of all, it must’ve been somewhat significant. So I think what you’re gonna wanna do is tell us the story and then tell us why.

Like, why, why is it significant? Why did it stick with you? What did you learn from it? How did you grow? How does it impact you now and how’s it impacting your college choices and your career choices? So I think it could be a really great thing to write about. Definitely. And in terms of the tone of your essays, we have a student that’s wondering, can I be somewhat informal in my essay if that shows my personality?

So what level of formality or informality is acceptable? Yeah, that’s a, that’s a tough one. So your essay should not look like a text message. And I’m dating myself here, but OMG, LOL, things like that, unless you’re putting ’em in quotes and they’re part of your story really not appropriate.

Your, the readers of your essays are gonna be from all different generations and all different backgrounds. So if you’re, you wouldn’t wanna use a word. That someone, for example, much older than you might not recognize. So the level of formality that your high school teachers expect from you is probably appropriate for your college admissions essay.

Again, if you’re worried about that, have a couple people read your essay and ask them about it, you, you’ll probably get a range of answers. So at the end of the day, you’re gonna have to make a judgment call. If, if everyone’s telling you it’s too informal and there’s a way where you can say it a little more formally, that still keeps your voice, do that.

Yeah, that’s, it’s, that’s a, it can be a tough line to walk and. I so believe in you all that you can capture your voice in a way that uses words and sentence structures and everything that college admissions readers will understand.

Thank you. And kind of with the rise of AI and chatGPT, we have some students that are wondering about the role that AI plays and what general advice you would have for students in regard to using chatGPT for their college essays. In terms of using it to write your essay. Is that the question?

Yes. We have some students wondering here, just wondering like the ethics of that, et cetera. Yeah, I would strongly advise against it. I, it is fascinating and amazing technology and I’m excited to see what we do with it for good. And we wanna hear your voice. Not chatGPTs voice, not AI. Ethically, I don’t know.

I would imagine colleges if they knew, if they had a way of figuring out that an essay was written using that, frankly, I think they would reject that candidate. I don’t know. I think they’re all probably looking at this question right now. Strongly advise against doing that. Yeah. Yes, I definitely agree with that here.

I think that’s something that we tell our clients here at CollegeAdvisor. You know, make sure that it’s your own words, so not having chatGPT or another person writing your own essay. So just wanted to have that warning out there for all the students here. I. Some students are wondering here about any mistakes that you generally see in essays or any like red flags that you’ve seen in college essays or anything that should be avoided?

The three I mentioned earlier are, I think are the biggest. So not, they’re not telling a story or having this narrative writing, just lists of accomplishments that don’t really like tell a story. Tho those I think are the, the biggest two, and I don’t know that I’d call them red flags. I just think those are big areas for improvement and that’s why this is an iterative process.

Yes. And in terms of the topic that you should be discussing in your common app essay, students are wondering, does it have to be something that’s academic? Should you talk about your intended major or career path? Is that a good rule of thumb? Yeah, it can be about anything. It does not need to be academic at all.

I do think a lot of students, you know, sometimes it’s just in the last paragraph, do tie it in a little bit to like this forward looking thing. It doesn’t have to be specifically college, but what you want to do with your life. I think it’s sort of a natural place to take your essay given the context. But no, I absolutely encourage students to write about things that are not academic.

And could you elaborate or provide any examples on, you know, how you’ve seen students stand out in their essays? Maybe if you can think of some essays that you’ve read from prior clients or a way that you did that yourself. Yeah. The ones that stick with me are really good stories. Not in the substance, not in that like, oh, what happened there was really interesting, but in the way it was told that I was drawn in.

So I sometimes I’ll say to my students, like, think about children’s storybooks. They are so. Descriptive. And so in the moment you can, you can imagine yourself as a character in like a, I don’t know, Peppa Pig book or something, right? Like they’re, they draw you in. Those are the ones that, that stick with me. And they have been about the most interesting things and frankly, the most boring things. But the essay is not boring because it’s told as a really interesting story.

And in terms of the general essay structure of the common app, would you say that students need to stick to, you know, paragraphs or how should they physically be structuring their essay? Yeah, I mean, I think every essay I’ve read has used paragraph format. It helps your reader, especially because they are reading these so quickly.

To, you know, catch like the, the intro sentence of each paragraph and sort of follow your storyline. So I, in general, a pretty conventional structure, I think works really well here. I maybe had like one essay with a really, really strong like published writer who had a lot of smaller paragraphs at the beginning and a bit of an artistic choice.

And he got into these colleges. So like, there, there is flexibility there. But I would, I would advise that you mostly stick to like this conventional like three to eight sentence paragraph style that we’ve all learned. Great. Thank you Anna. And at this point in the webinar, I actually wanted to provide a special offer for all of you attendees here.

So here at CollegeAdvisor, we have a team of over 300 former admissions officers and admissions experts who are ready to help you and your family navigate the college admissions process and one-on-one advising sessions. So 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 University. 4.1 times more likely to get into Vanderbilt University, and 2.7 times more likely to get into Harvard University. So you could increase your odds and take the next step in your college admissions journey by signing up for a free 45 to 60 minute strategy session with an admissions specialist on our team using this QR code on the screen.

So you can just scan it with your phone. 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 start to stand out in a competitive admissions world. So we’re gonna be moving back to the question answer here, and I did see that a lot of you guys have some more personal questions, and those would definitely be better tailored for a one-on-one advising session.

So definitely be sure to sign up here with this QR code. But the next question that I will throw your way, Anna let me look through the questions right now. But we have some students here that are wondering how can you avoid talking too much about other people in your essays, and how do you make sure that the focus is on yourself?

For example, if a student wanted to talk about the impact that their, you know, mom or older sibling has had on them, how do they ensure that it’s an essay that is true to them and not just, you know, talking about that person That is a, these are all very smart questions, as is this one. I, you know, I’d wanna know more about like, the particulars of what you want to share about your mom, but my first thought is tell us a story that involves your mom and you, and then as a follow up to the story, or maybe like throughout, make sure you’re telling us what you.

Thought what you felt, what you heard, what you saw. So we’re in your shoes, so you’re telling us like the substance is about your mom, but really you’re telling us about your reaction to your mom. So it’s actually about you. That’s gonna show the college admissions reader how you think, how you feel, and how you react to your environment.

And that’s exactly what we’re going for here. Yes, definitely. The next question that I have for here is in regard to that recent Supreme Court ruling with affirmative action. So do you have any advice to students on how they can approach writing about race or ethnicity or their religion in their common app essay? Yeah, I really appreciate this question.

As a lawyer, as a human I think we’re all kind of figuring that out together this year. So I don’t know how colleges are going to react to this ruling at all. And I think a good rule is to just stick, to stick to what we’ve talked about. Race is an important component of who you are. And if it’s something you wanna talk about in your essay, talk about it.

And as you talk about it, keep in mind what we’ve said, right? How you can mention external things. But the whole time we wanna be showing the reader how you have reacted to the external events and how you feel about them and how you think about them. So they’re learning about you. So I, I don’t plan on advising students this year to talk about race any differently in their essays than I have in the past.

And yeah, I, yeah, that’s, that’s a big and tough question that colleges are gonna have to figure out now. Yes, definitely. Thank you for, you know, answering that question for us here. We have a student here that’s wondering how important is the essay compared to other parts of the college application?

So, for example, extracurricular lists or g p a so how would that be weighed in your opinion? It’s all important and all colleges will tell you, and it’s true, like we have a lot of former admissions officers at CollegeAdvisor and they all say this is true. Reviews are holistic. They’re going to look at the whole thing.

So your GPA is informative. Test scores, if you submit them are informative, extracurriculars are informative, and essay is informative. I’m on our essay review team here, so I’m like a big essay nerd. So I will say I think it’s the easiest place to bring your own unique voice and story in. So I think they’re very important and truly they’re going to look at everything.

So, you know, if you have a great GPA I would advise against thinking you can, you know, give yourself some slack on the essay and vice versa. It’s all important to put your best foot forward. That’s an expression, that’s a little cliche and I would maybe avoid in an essay. And yes, earlier, Anna, you shared that for your common app essay.

You talked about a topic that was, you know, deeply personal to you and your family. And we have some students that are planning on writing their common app essay about this. But they are concerned about making it sound like a generic sob story. So how would you advise approaching, talking about this topic?

Yeah. First of all, kudos to you. It is hard to do. It shows vulnerability. So I commend you for being open to, to writing about those topics. Really the same rules we’ve been talking about, I think apply here. Feedback is gonna be extra helpful. So some of the feedback I got was like, I didn’t need to be maybe as detailed as I was being about trauma.

And instead focus on. How I felt, how I thought about it, what I did, and how how’s that gonna impact my future? How’s it impacting how I think about what I wanna do with my life? So really the same, same rules apply, and you never have to write about something that you don’t want to. You never have to.

I’ve had some students who I think felt like they needed to write about a trauma or something, you know, really difficult and personal and intimate, and they weren’t that comfortable with that, which is fine. You, you do not have to share those things to get into college. And if you want to, I, I think that’s commendable. And apply the same rules we’ve talked about all night.

And of course with college applications, you’re trying to show your best self. But students are wondering, how do you avoid sounding like you’re bragging or just sharing a list of accomplishments with your admissions officer and how do you maintain a genuine and authentic tone there? Yeah, I think that’s where the storytelling can be really helpful.

Because when you tell stories, if you think about any book you’ve read or any movie you’ve seen, main characters have flaws. They have growth opportunities. So if you’re worried your essay sounds, you know, braggy, great time to ask someone if it’s coming across that way. And, and if it is, Ask yourself, okay, how, how did I grow in this moment?

Like, yes, I won this amazing award, or yes, I, I aced this test, but how did I get here? Because I bet you it was challenging in one way or another. And then share that it’s okay and good to say like, this was really hard and here’s what I did. And I think that will really help you with the tone if you’re worried about sounding boastful

and. Who should these students be addressing their essay to? We have a student for example, that’s wondering, like, as a hook, is it okay if I speak directly to the reader using you or us, et cetera, in the hook of my essay? And just general advice you would have for the, you know, first sentence or first couple sentences of an essay to really hook the reader.

Yeah. So I definitely stick to essay format, right? So I wouldn’t really do your college admissions reader in terms of like using you in a hook. I, I don’t think that’s off the table as an option. There’s another cliche expression. And I think this is where it could be really helpful to sign up for CollegeAdvisor and talk to someone because I think that’s getting a bit into.

Specifics and it’s gonna depend on the whole style of your essay. But it’s not, it’s not an obvious no to me. A hook is something that makes the reader want to learn more and to keep reading. So I, I have seen essays that start, you know, maybe with some questions. ’cause I think at some point in high school we were all taught that’s a really like engaging way to start and essay.

And it can be. But it can also lean into the cliche that we were talking about. So, I’m sorry this is a long-winded answer and it’s not definitive. ’cause I do really think it depends on what you had in mind, what the student who asked this question had in mind. But it’s not, it’s not an obvious no to me.

And I think earlier in the session we talked about, you know, themes or values that you can be portraying about yourself in your Common App essay. So do you have any examples to provide for our audience? Yeah. So the like big, high level themes that you might want a reader to remember about you is that you, you’re creative, you’re funny, you’re hardworking, you are determined, you’re passionate.

They really are like these big themes that, that need to find, which you will do throughout your application. And the way that we at CollegeAdvisor often help our students do that, and maybe that’s part of what the student is asking is we take a step back, we look at everything you’ve done. All of your experiences, all parts of your identity that, that you feel are relevant to this process.

And we just ask ourselves like, what, what does your debate club, you know, interest, how does it relate to your history, like your interest in history? So it’s, it’s definitely a process of figuring it out. But the themes themselves can be pretty high level. Now, I’m not saying, I would advise against saying in your essay, like, I am passionate, hardworking, dedicated, here’s why. We want to show the themes and not tell them.

And I am looking through the Q&A tab right now, and I see that there’s a couple of students here wondering on whether that Common App essay should focus on one specific experience or event, or if it’s okay to talk about multiple ones given the 650 word count. So you know what advice you’d have there.

Yeah, it’s okay to talk about multiple if they’re connected. So you don’t want this disjointed essay of, here’s a thing I did and here’s another thing I did. My experience, I’ve read the hundreds of these at CollegeAdvisor. Now I think most people tend to tell one story, so they talk about one experience.

Because once you get into it and once you’re asking for feedback and people are saying, Like, how did that feel? Or what did you think here? Like, can you expand here? 650 words is not as long as it sounds. And we have way more students who are coming to us for help cutting back on their word count than expanding.

So general, I think most write about one to two experiences. And if you’re writing about more than one, it’s gotta be this cohesive, consistent story.

Right. And I know that in the session we’ve talked a bit about, you know, how you have flexibility in the topics that you can choose. And so it could be overwhelming for some of our students here on, you know, what topic they should even write about. So what advice do you have for the early stages of writing an essay and choosing a topic and making sure it’s, you know, the best one for them to choose?

Yeah. Read the prompt. So read all of the common app essay prompts and go with your gut. I have a lot of students who will say, well, I was thinking about this prompt, but I don’t really know if I can do it. You can do it. Why were you really thinking about that prompt? Why did that one stick with you? And if you’re a student who reads ’em all and think none of these, like, I don’t relate to any of these.

Okay, then take a step back and think about moments in your life that have been impactful and why. See if you can imagine an essay about that and then see how you can make it work for one of the prompts. ’cause they really are very broad and very open-ended. And a lot of stories you could make work for multiple prompts.

So that, that would be my advice there. Yes. And earlier in the session you mentioned how it’s important to have other people look over your essay. So we have some students here who are wondering, like, around how many people you would suggest to look over an essay. Especially because it can be too much of a student to ask so many people, and it can, they can also run the risk of not sounding like themselves anymore after too much editing.

Yeah, I think what’s more important than having a lot of people look at it is having multiple iterations. So you might draft something, have one person look at it, give you feedback, then it’s your job to go and implement that feedback in a way that maintains your voice and then repeat, rinse and repeat.

So the person who reads it next could be the same person or a different person. That’s up to you. Like some, some students, it’s just their CollegeAdvisor, but we’re editing it multiple rounds. So I think it’s, it’s much more the, the number of rounds of feedback and revisions than it is the number of people. And sorry if I made it seem like you should ask like all of your cousins and aunts and uncles to read it.

That’s, that’s not, I don’t think that’s the case. And do you have any advice to add on choosing a common app prompt? Because I know there’s like a couple, maybe like seven to nine. So what advice do you offer choosing that question? Yeah kind of like I said earlier, read them, think about them. If one pops for you, follow that read, that’s a trail head that you can walk down and see why that one popped for you.

And if it doesn’t, then. Like we talked about, just think about what, what sorts of stories might you want to tell what moment has been very impactful for you? And then how, how could you apply that to one of the questions? I feel like I gave the same exact answer to an earlier question, so Juliana, if I’m missing any nuance in that question, please let know.

Yes, no worries. I think that was a good response. Don’t worry about it. Let’s see. Do you have any like tools or applications that you would recommend students use to, you know, help with their essays or organizing their college apps? Like, like task management tools? Yes. Yes. Okay. I’m a bit old school and I’m an Excel fan.

Or Google Sheets. So that’s that’s what. I use. That’s what I think a lot of our students use. And if you have something that works for you that’s worked in high school, oh my gosh, keep using it. That’s amazing. I know there are thousands of apps out there that could help with this. That’s gonna be, I think, a subjective choice for you.

So trial and error with it. But I’m thinking by this point in your education careers, you’ve probably learned a bit about what works for you and what doesn’t. So bring that, bring those skills with you to this process. Definitely, definitely agree with that there. And I see that we have two minutes left in this session.

So I did wanna just ask you the last question here which is, if you want to provide like one lasting piece of advice for students, whether in regard to essays or in general, the college application process what would you want to leave our students here with tonight? Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. Tell a story. Show don’t tell in your essay.

Thank you so much Anna. So that is actually the end of our session here. I wanna send a thank you to all, to you all for coming out tonight and a huge thank you again to Anna for presenting and all of the information. So that is the end of our webinar and we had a really great time talking to you all tonight about college essay mistakes.

And I did wanna share with you all our August series. So coming up tomorrow, we have getting started college essay brainstorming. On the 10th, we have “Decoding the ACT and SAT: Acing the Tests.” On the 14th, we have “AO Advice: Writing Your Personal Statement for College Applications.” On the 15th, we have “Applying to Merit Scholarships” on the 16th, “Early Decision, Early Action, and Regular Decision: What’s Right for You.”

On the 17th, we have a Harvard, Yale, and Princeton College panel. On the 20th, we have “Understanding the Common App,” so we’ll be able to do more of a deep dive into the Common App specifically there. And on the 21st we have another iteration of this SES session, which is, you know, college essay mistakes when writing about yourself.

So thank you so much again everyone for coming out tonight and have a great rest of your evening.