CollegeAdvisor Masterclass: Brainstorming Your Common App Personal Statement Topic￼
Join CollegeAdvisor.com as CollegeAdvisor Admissions Expert and Essay Review Team Captain Gareth Cordery presents “CollegeAdvisor Masterclass: Brainstorming Your Common App Personal Statement Topic,” a 60-minute webinar and Q&A. Gareth will share insider knowledge on how to brainstorm your common app personal statement topic in order to standout to your top colleges. Come ready to learn and bring your questions!
2022-08-18- CollegeAdvisor Masterclass: Brainstorming Your Common App Personal Statement Topic
Hi, everyone. Welcome to tonight’s webinar. My name is Anesha Grant. I am a Senior Advisor at CollegeAdvisor, and I will be your moderator for this evening. Welcome to tonight’s CollegeAdvisor Masterclass: Brainstorming Your Common App Personal Statement Topic. To orient everyone with the webinar timing, our presenter will share tips, resources, and guidance, and then we will open up the floor to respond to your questions in a live Q&A on the sidebar.
You can download our slides under the Q&A under, sorry, under the handout tab. And you can start submitting your questions at any time in the Q&A tab. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. Now let’s meet our presenter Gareth pottery. Hi Gareth. Hi, good evening everyone. Uh, thank you so much for coming and thank you, Anesha.
Uh, for that candid introduction. Um, NHA mention, my name is Gareth Cordery and I graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in music and history. Um, I’m currently a doctoral student at Columbia University studying historical musicology. Um, and I’m an advisor with CollegeAdvisor. I’m also, um, as you saw in the, uh, materials about this, uh, masterclass, the captain of CollegeAdvisors as a review team, um, which is an extensive resource for current CollegeAdvisor advisees, who benefit from the many extra pairs of eyes on their application, essays and expert assistants across all parts of the writing process.
Um, as a member and as captain of that team, I read and reviewed several hundred common personal statements, self essays, um, and edited well over a hundred personal statements. So I’m thrilled to be today to discuss a sometimes overlooked, important aspect of the personal state statement, writing process brainstorming.
Awesome. Thanks Gareth. I’m excited to hear from you and hear about your experience before we get started, though. We wanna know a little bit more about you all out there, so I’m gonna start a poll. Let us know what grade level you are in. If you haven’t started school this semester, we were talking about the grade level you’re about to go into, so are you a rising eighth grade or ninth grader or 10th grader?
Let us know. And as we are waiting to hear back from folks, I’m wondering for you, Gareth, what was your favorite part up in Vermont about Middlebury? Oh, gosh, there is so much, uh, it’s in an absolutely beautiful location. Um, but I think really my favorite part of Middlebury was, uh, just the size of the school.
It’s, it’s quite small. Um, it’s in a small town and so the faculty are sort of always there. Um, they’re always there. The students, um, are, are, A’s a very good number of students. And so I feel like the interaction with student, with, with faculty, the chances for research, um, the feeling of community that was so strong in a way that I really, really valued.
And now I, I also really appreciate looking back on, uh, now living in New York city in a in a where community’s a little harder to find. Yeah, for sure. For sure. Yeah. I am a native new Yorker, so I totally get it. I get both ends of that. Um, well thank you so much for sharing. We’re gonna go ahead and close our poll.
Thanks. Y’all for submitting your responses. So it looks like actually the majority of folks are in 12th grade, which makes sense. People wanna know what they need to start writing about. Um, there are a few folks in 11th grade and some very ambitious folks. It’s in 10th grade. Um, but we’re excited to have all of you here today and Gareth, I will hand it over to you, so take it away.
Fantastic. Thank you very much. Okay. So since we have students across, um, years of high school, I think it’s best just to start at the beginning, um, and ask simply what is a personal statement at a basic level. Um, and this, I’m sure you already know, it’s an essay of up to 650 words. It’s supposed to be about you, the clues and the title on that one.
Uh, and it gets sent to every school that you apply to using the Common App so far so good. Uh, but I think there’s a better way of thinking about the personal statement rather than merely being an essay or just one more requirement that you have to check off the list of college applications. It’s an opportunity.
The personal statement is a unique opportunity to do several things, including to showcase your critical thinking skills. Uh, it’s a chance to demonstrate to the admissions committee, how you think that sounds like a huge and complicated matter, but it’s easier to craft than you might expect the best personal statements.
Show how you draw connections between all sorts of contrasting aspects of your life. They demonstrate what intellectually stimulates you and why. And they offer the admissions committee a glimpse into how you’ll perform both inside and outside of the classroom. In college, they show you as curious and thoughtful, reflective, and self-aware, and, and this is all hugely important for acceptance, as it can highlight a part of you.
That’s impossible to find on paper. The rest of your application by and large will resemble most other applications that schools receive. So providing a look into how you think is really important. Now that’s a lot of big things to cover in 650 words, and our discussion today will help you come up with topics to fit these criteria.
Similarly, the personal statement is an opportunity to fill in the blanks on your application. Now, this works in a couple of different ways. As you start to bring together the various parts of your application, you’ll start to notice. And I’m sure many of you in 12th grade have already noticed, um, the ways in which various experiences and some interests start to pop up more than others across your application.
Perhaps there’s an extracurricular that dominates your resume as well as your activity list. That might also be the root of a letter of recommendation, or maybe there’s a subject that appears again and again on your transcript, and might also appear in say an art supplement or some other additional essay.
If so, the personal statement is a fantastic chance to highlight another part of your background. Something that shows how well rounded you are or on the flip side of that, perhaps you’ve noticed that something really important to you doesn’t actually show up in your existing application materials or isn’t shown in any real depth.
These can be big things. For example, non-school activities like volunteering or a whole range of smaller scale, everyday activities and experiences. In that case, the personal statement could do the opposite, adding needed context and context and depth to something that plays a significant role in your life, but is hard or impossible to see on paper.
For examples like these, it’s often useful to think about explaining why you dedicated so much time to this activity and what it shows about you. In either case the essay can be a huge help in communicating to the admissions committee, the things that matter to you and why also the personal statement is a fun opportunity to be creative.
It’s an unusual type of essay. One that won’t feel completely familiar to you and should diverge from the traditional expository essays that you’re now used to writing in high school. You don’t have to think completely outside of the box on this one. I mean, some students do write poetry or change up the genre considerably.
Um, and that’s certainly welcome, but I’m not necessarily recommending that unless you’re extremely confident about your skills as a poet. Uh, instead for most of you, this type of creativity is merely the kind that discourages straightforward paragraphs and encourages incisive hooks the use of dialogue, uh, clever writing, and certainly extensive use of first person, unlike the resume or letters of recommendation, uh, or in some cases, even the interview.
Which are generally formulaic. Um, their contracts are pretty well said in stone. The essay provides a chance to surprise and delight the admissions committee, demonstrating your writing in creative skills. Thinking about the personal statement as an opportunity rather than a requirement should demonstrate its importance as well as even, I hope to make it fun to write, but I’m also aware that this is a pretty intimidating list of things to accomplish in just over 500 words.
All of these opportunities require not only thoughtful writing and good editing, but most importantly, careful consideration and brainstorming of the topic itself, which brings us to the main subject of tonight’s masterclass. How do you start the writing process? Before you arrive at the brainstorming proper, there are a couple of things you can do to make the brainstorming and writing process as smooth and easy as possible.
I strongly recommend that you start by reading essays that have already got students accepted to college because the personal statement will feel very different than regular high school essays to write. It can be really hard to know exactly where to start. If you have friends and family willing to share essays that they wrote when applying to college, that can be a great start and guidance counselors or teachers may have examples from former students at your high school.
Who’ve gone on to good schools, but I especially recommend the resources that institutions themselves put out the so-called essays that worked pages, which feature examples of recent personal statements are admitted students. I have a couple that I’m going to attempt to put in the chat. Let’s see if this works, there should be, uh, four links here.
If you just give me one second, one, two. Three and four, let me know if you can’t access those separately, I can submit them separately. Um, uh, and all of those pages, uh, feature examples of recent personal statements by admitted students. Um, those are from Johns Hopkins, Babson, Connecticut college in Hamilton, which are all excellent schools and offer both examples of essays as well as advice from the students who wrote them.
Um, and sometimes comments and tips from admissions officers as well. Now, most top tier tier institutions like those four schools have similar sites. Um, and so if you search for essays that worked in the name of your dream school, you could often pull up essays from students who were accepted at that particular school.
Cool, but because the personal statement goes to every Common App school you’re applying to. Don’t worry. If you can’t find a site for your dream school, there’s no need to pay random companies online to see essays or to email current students at those schools, uh, to try to find their essays simply perusing successful personal statements from any institution.
We’ll give you not only a sense of the contours of the personal statement as a whole, um, but also the types of creativity allowed and examples of subject matter. Even though you shouldn’t try to copy an individual student’s approach, looking through this list of essays that worked as an invaluable start for getting the hang of the personal statement.
After that, the best thing to do is check this year’s prompts. Thankfully, the Common App prompts changed very irregularly. So chances are that even if you’re a freshman or a sophomore, the prompts will still be roughly the same. Um, by the time you’re a senior, the seven prompts, uh, for the Common App, personal statement can be found at the bottom of this page.
Uh, if you sit with these prompts for a while and compare them with the essays that work, to see how successful applicants use them at starting points, um, that will put you in really great stead for continuing the writing process. Chances are that some of those seven prompts will stand out to you more than others, even.
So, and this I strongly recommend, uh, you should try to sit down with a blank document on your computer or a pen and a pencil, set a timer for 20 minutes and start free writing for the first prompt, come up with some possible topics and follow one, as far as you can. Um, during that time period, the next day, do the same thing with the second prompt at the end of the week, if you go through one prompt a day, you’ll have drafted ideas for every prompt.
I think it’s best to do this day by day, rather than back to back in the little over two hours or so in order to give yourself the best possible chance to develop unique ideas that are appropriate to each prompt when you’re done with the free writing, you’ll see that undoubtedly, some of the topics you’ve chosen were easier to write than.
Trust yourself on this and take those as your first batch of possible topics. You’ll also notice that a single topic can likely work for more than one prompt depending on the angle you take or how you massage that idea. We’ll talk a little bit more about that later. That’s perfectly normal. Uh, and you’ll already have a good sense of how certain topics interact with prompts from this free writing alone.
If you have a topic that seems like it could fit every prompt and you’re not certain what to do with it, don’t worry. Just pick the prompt that makes the most sense in the moment. As you continue to flush out your essay, it’ll become clear which prompt might work best throughout this freewriting process.
Always focus on writing more instead of writing less, it’s always easier to cut than it is to add. So at a basic level, if the thoughts are flowing, don’t hesitate to keep writing past the 20 minute mark. I consider that to be a minimum rather than the maximum amount of time allowed. And beginning the drafting phrase through phase through longer free writing, rather than merely listing possibilities, listing possibilities of topics will be more helpful in the long run because one topic can work for more than one prompt.
None of this time will be wasted, uh, as you’ll likely be able to borrow ideas and even sentences, or maybe even paragraphs from your free writing for other topics, you may even take some of the ideas from this process into the supplemental essays, which is a subject for another day. Okay. So at this stage of the brainstorming process, you’ll have read successful essays.
You’ll have sat with the prompts for a bit and you’ll have drafted some ideas of your own, but what if the free writing process wasn’t successful, or you ended up with the same topic for each prompt, or you have a series of topics that you’re lukewarm about? What if you’re staring at a blank page, uh, and you’re not even able to get through the, the freewriting process feeling that you don’t know how to write about yourself, where should you start then?
Even if you feel good about your topics, a helpful idea is to engage in some simple self-reflection. This doesn’t have to be particularly philosophical or even strategically focused instead spend some time every day, even just a few minutes, reflecting on your daily activities. Think of this a little bit, like keeping a diary, but instead of recording, recording the big things in your life, think more about the little things the point is to write about how you think.
So for some examples, consider how you problem solve or how you tackle chores. What makes you happy on a daily basis? What you find yourself doing in your free time, how any of those have changed since you started high school or how you think they might change or how you want them to change over the next four years in college, this can easily become a simple daily.
As you ponder some of these basic things, it can be helpful to come up with keywords like diligent or creative, positive adjectives to describe your outlook in on daily life. Or you could think about some positive changes that have happened. Are there things that you used to be insecure about or that you feared that are now easy to accomplish?
Try to encapsulate one of these in a small event or in an object that could become a unique and unexpected focal point for your essay, as you can probably tell, I hardly recommend keeping it simple. Don’t worry about finding traumas or life changing experiences. If you haven’t had any that’s perfectly.
Okay. All you have to do is tell a good story and show how you think some of the best essays that I’ve read have focused on the little things, drawing out bigger narratives from very small things. After this self-reflection approach the prompts again, with some of the ideas you’ve jotted down. Can you connect these simple tasks, these basic approaches on life or these simple outlooks to the broader prompts.
It’s exactly this process of critical thinking of connecting between the mundane, um, and, and the bigger issues in life that impress admissions committee. However with that being said, don’t overthink the committee. You can tie yourself into not trying to guess what they want to hear. I think I did that to some degree when I was in your shoes, this can cause serious writer’s block and it can cause you to doubt the topics that you’ve come up with, but there’s absolutely no need to stress about who’s reading your essay, focus on coming up with your individual voice and being honest about your life rather than patting your resume or trying to impress the former always works better than the latter.
This is especially true because the Common App is sent to so many different schools and admissions committees are fully aware of that fact, your voice, your story is the most important thing here far more, um, than your sense of what the admissions committee might want to see. Okay. Now you have a range of topics from the big ideas or transformative experiences you might already have had in mind to the smaller moments of your life that played just as important of a role in making you into the person you are today.
At this stage, it’s time to narrow down those topics, thinking critically about how they fit into the rest of your application. Here at CollegeAdvisor, we spend a lot of time working with students on what we call their personal brand, those elements of an application and experiences that help a student stand out personal brand brand includes your goals, your values, your background, and your interests, importantly, because you only have one personal brand.
It should connect between these interests and experiences. And the personal statement is an excellent opportunity to do exactly that. This is why the daily self-reflection could be so important as it can reveal the underlying aspects that connect the things that interest you on paper, you might spend a lot of time doing seemingly completely unrelated activities.
Things like, I don’t know, pottery and mathematics or football and flute performance pondering the ways that those unrelated activities connect in your mind say, um, your interest in chemistry and formula love of cooking through discovering its underlying chemical reactions, things like that are a fantastic way to craft your essay.
And I’ve touched on this already, but another important aspect is to ensure that your essay emphasizes your well-roundedness make sure that it’s filling gaps or adding detail to missing aspects of your application rather than padding and already narrow focus. Also ensure that the focus always remains on.
After all, it’s a personal statement and your personal brand. Part of the reason that I accentuate keeping it simple is that essays about big events tend to focus more on the big events than they do about the author themself. If you choose a life changing moment or a major experience as your topic, that’s totally okay.
But be cautious to ensure that the reader doesn’t lose sight of you and your voice, try to narrow down those big moments. What exactly was so inspiring or transformative about them? Could you couch these particular moments as part of a broader narrative of your interests in life and make sure that you don’t choose a topic that takes a ton of background information of filling in the reader, uh, about what’s going on in your essay?
Any necessary background should be limited to only a sentence or two, rather than a paragraph so that you can move quickly to showing off your critical thinking and writing. On that subject. I don’t want to close the door on any topics. I certainly read personal statements that have convincingly taken on unexpected, unlikely ideas, but even so you’d be wise to check if there are any topics that you probably shouldn’t write about.
The first of these is to simply avoid listing accomplishments. The admissions committee will have your resume. They’ll have your transcript, they’ll receive glowing letters of recommendation. They’ll be able to, uh, offer a chance of this type of celebratory detail in an interview. This is especially true for sports achievements because they might wonder why you weren’t recruited.
Uh, but the personal statement also, isn’t the place for listing academic accomplishments. You are of course, welcome to dementia, significant triumphs in your life, but ensure that these are part of a broader narrative as you consider what you learned from the moment, how it cons continues to shape you and how it connects to other aspects of your life.
An essay simply about, for example, uh, leading the marching band to several competition victories in a row, isn’t going to cut it in this case. On the other side of the coin, I always recommend avoiding red flag. Now, this can be a tricky subject as there are certainly shades of gray. But remember that the admissions committee is not just looking for a strong and well-rounded student, but a person that they can imagine thriving and succeeding on their campus.
The transition from high school to college is difficult in so many ways. It’s a tough shift and you don’t want to give the admissions reader any serious cause for concern, thus, I always recommend against, for example, describing mental health struggles, uh, in graphic detail, especially if there are themes related to suicide or trauma.
Now these can certainly be hinted at obliquely, but as part of a broader narrative, try to steer clear, uh, of a narrower focus on these issues. I also recommend against taking overt political stances in your personal statement. Um, again, by all means discuss issues important to you or themes of social justice, uh, but don’t call out individual politicians or approach divisive subjects just for the sake of it, make sure that these political discussions connect with your personal life and likely, uh, with your academic interests as well.
And I can’t say it enough, but keep the focus on you. If you’re not at the center of the topic, make sure you at the very least reframe the topic before turning it into the personal statement. I generally recommend against personal statements about people. Who’ve inspired you, uh, as the essay seems more about how great they are rather than how great you are avoiding unnecessary background detail is, is also quite essential.
So with that, we’re about halfway through of my presentation portion. Um, so I’d like to hand it now back to Anesha, uh, for another poll. Thanks. Um, so yeah, we wanna know where you all are in your application process. So clearly everyone’s eager to think about the essays. Um, but have you started doing anything else other than writing?
So let us know how far along you are in your process. I appreciate you sharing those comments Gareth about avoiding topic. That was a question that came up a bit in the registration of what can I write about what’s too personal? That’s a question in the chat right now. Um, so I appreciate you kind of giving some context to that.
Um, would you be comfortable sharing what you. What about in your, what, the general topic that you wrote about in your college essays? Oh gosh. Yes. I’d be happy to. Um, so as you probably guessed for my academic, uh, interest and background, I am a musician. Um, and so I talked, um, a lot about my, um, my performance background, um, partially because in my case, I was applying to some very performance based programs.
It was a slightly different case for me. Um, but I tried very hard to catch that again, rather than focusing on, um, all the sort of great performances I’ve done or all of the big celebratory moments I had. It was sort of focusing in on one particular performance that I think was particularly, uh, change my sense of the power of music, um, and use that to sort of build outwards to a broader focus on my career interests, my academic interests.
Um, and my sense of the role music plays in daily. I love that I’m gonna borrow that. I have a student right now, who’s, who’s trying to write about music and really struggling. And so I think he’s trying to write about like seven different pieces and, and different compositions. So I love you focusing on one specific thing and then building out from there.
So I appreciate that suggest fix for sharing. Alright, I’m gonna go ahead and close our poll. See where folks are at in the college application process. So 44 folks have not started. That is okay. You still got some time you’re here. This is the beginning. Um, 183 folks are still researching. Um, so that is a good place to be in as well.
145, about a third of our audience is working on essays. So clearly, uh, hoping you lean to UN from today’s conversation. 89 are getting their materials together and six are almost done. So we hope that for the folks who are wrapping up soon, that you get some last minute tidbits in here before you decide to press submit.
Thanks so much, Gareth I’ll hand it back over to you. Awesome. Thank you very much. All right. So thank you for filling out that pull. Um, that’s very helpful for me because I’ve broken down a rough timeline, um, for brainstorming by the year that you’re in high school. Um, but I think it’s also quite helpful to think of this timeline, um, in terms of your progress through the application.
So if you’re say a junior, who’s just beginning to think about college, feel free to place your place yourself back in the freshman category, just for a moment. Um, and this is all to say that this timeline doesn’t actually have to occur over four years of high school. I, I don’t think we have any freshmen here today.
Um, so it could work over four months or, um, even perhaps a shorter timeline based on where you are in school and how far along you are in the. Um, and throughout this, certainly be honest with yourself and create a realistic timeline, um, especially for you seniors and, uh, some of you juniors, um, because there’s a, a push of course soon to gather other application materials.
So if you are just starting on the exciting path of the college application, I recommend beginning the self-reflection process. Start small here. You don’t necessarily have to spend time with the individual prompts yet, um, but begin pondering your daily life and think about what differentiates you from your peers, ask yourself those questions that we discussed earlier.
What excites you? What interests you in your free time? How you change your hope to change? Um, I think you’ll thank me later. If you actually write down those observations, don’t just think of them, but record them. Um, so that you have them. When you begin to write the essay proper, this is especially true.
Um, if you are a sophomore or earlier in high school, as you won’t be able to remember those observations years later, um, and so being able to ponder how you’ve grown as a person and as a thinker will be invaluable. As you continue down the path, um, it’s time to begin exploring the props. Look through the notes you’ve taken on your self reflection.
Take the time to free write, consider what stands out and why read examples of essays that worked, especially finding a range of essays to get a good sense of all the possibilities. Ask friends and family if they have their essays, um, and start to build towards specific topics in your mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of you today already have some ideas floating around, even if, um, this is your first time, really seriously thinking about brainstorming the personal statement, write all of this down.
So you have it for later and can recall it quickly and easily, um, and feel free to ponder how these early ideas interact with your self reflections and start to build up those skills of connecting between various parts of your life between the big and the. As you approach test season, and it’s time to put together your application, start to consider how the topics you’ve come up with fit within the context of your application, how they might compliment accentuate or fill in for the other materials in all the ways that we’ve discussed today.
You’ll probably find that some topics might be less valuable than expected if they’re purely repetitive, um, and that some unexpected parts of your life may make for really thoughtful topics. There’s no need to carefully pour over the rest of your application to think about these topics. I have no doubt, um, that you already have in mind, some broader themes that will be present or missing in your application.
If, and it sounds like many of you are, you’re a senior and you’re well on your way to completing your applications. It’s almost time to start writing don’t panic. It’s only August, but the sooner that you can start a full draft of your essay, the better as you’ll soon have to turn to supplemental essays or non-com app essays in the coming months, as well remember though, that it’s still worth going through the brainstorming process.
The things that you’ll learn about yourself will be useful across the application, including the interview and the free writing. And self-reflection you’ll do will come in handy for the other essay. Now I’d like to look ahead a bit, let’s say you’ve picked a topic and you feel comfortable about it. Uh, but, and you’ve been able to start writing successfully, or maybe you’ve picked an essay that felt good at first, but now you’re having second doubts or maybe you had a topic in mind this afternoon.
but now it doesn’t seem perfect after our discussion so far, regardless, I encourage you to keep an open mind. There’s no exact right or wrong answer. And the personal statement prompts are deliberately written to encourage an unlimited number of approaches and answers. There’s probably no need to complete, completely shift your topic if you’re doubting it.
Um, because as we’ve discussed shifts and focus or minor adjustments can help a topic work for different prompt or give you a slightly different topic for the same prompt. You almost certainly won’t have to go back to the drawing board. As you work through the brainstorming and writing process, trust your mentors and ask for help.
It’s never too early to have a second pair of eyes. If a mentor or family member can help, um, isolate some of your self reflections, if they have some advice about brainstorming, uh, if they perhaps even think one topic suits you more than another, that’s really valuable advice. If you’re stuck between picking, uh, one topic over the other trust, someone who knows you well and can tell, uh, you, if one of those topics feels more authentic or compliments other parts of your application.
And now I know it can be really easy to get attached to a single topic. That definitely happened to me when I was in high school, but that’s why a robust brainstorming process is important. If that topic for any number of reasons, doesn’t play out, you have a lot of material to fall back on. If you pursue this brainstorming and free writing process in many ways, that’s the fun part.
Seeing how a topic that you’ve devised early on transforms itself into a different and stronger essay. But I’ll say it again, trust your gut. And don’t try to gain the system. I’ve offered a lot of broad based advice about topics that we always recommend against, but there’s a whole world of topics that work well, even glancing at the essays that work from various schools will demonstrate that.
So don’t change your topic just because you think the admissions committee is looking for something better. The people who know you best and qualified advisors, like all of us at CollegeAdvisor who have a chance to work with you over a period of time will be able to offer much better advice than the imaginary admissions reader that you’ve created in your.
So to close, uh, and turn to the Q&A in a second. What’s next after you’ve sat with your prompts for a bit and picked your topic. The obvious next step of course, is to start writing the more extensive your brainstorming, the smoother this process will go. As I’ve mentioned, the essay will probably feel pretty weird.
You could ignore a lot of the rules you had for other high school essays, like those pertaining to the use of I, or on the breakdown of paragraphs. The more that you’ve thought about yourself and put your interests and experiences at the center of the process, the easier this shift will be at the end of the day, 650 words really isn’t that many.
Um, so the more you can write during the free writing and self-reflection process will be bring you close to the word maximum already. Part of the revising and editing may include a switch to a different prompt, but keeping the same topic or a slightly different topic with the same prompt, as we’ve discovered, changing the angle of an essay to fit a different prompt is often a really good.
You can also start thinking about supplemental essays, which in some ways work like the personal statement, even though that’s a subject for a different masterclass, supplemental essays are also opportunities to fill in the blanks and to continue showing up your creative side, they build on many of the skills that we’ve discussed today.
Um, but in some other ways are easier to write because they’re focused on particular schools and generally a lot shorter. However, if you’re applying to a lot of schools, you’ll likely have a lot of self mental essays. So take advantage of the work you’ve done on the personal statement to avoid getting overwhelmed by them as deadlines approach.
And if you’re turning to the essay relatively early in your application process, which I think we can all agree is certainly a good idea. Feel free to take the topic that you’ve chosen as a starting point for your personal brand. We talked earlier about using your personal brand to come up with your topic, but this can work the other way around as well.
If you start early, Tell your recommenders, what you’re written about and how they can help supplement or reinforce it. Think about how the supplemental essays in the interview could fulfill a similar purpose or provide a counterpoint to your topic. Consider if there’s anything you might want to write in the, those, anything else, you want to know questions on the application proper, but at the end of the day after you’ve finished the brainstorming process, pat yourself on the back in many ways after the brainstorming is complete, the hardest part of writing the personal statement is done.
And with that, I’ll hand it back to Aisha who will handle the Q&A thank you all very much. Thanks so much for that. Gareth. I really enjoyed, uh, the presentation. Um, I learned a lot, there was question that were popping up as we were going through. Um, I, I have one quick question and I know the answer to, but I want you to answer it just so that everyone hears it.
Cuz I answered it in the chat. Do you have to put in a title for your personal statement? Ah, that’s a very good question. And actually a very, uh, smart question because if you looked at some of those essays that work, they often have titles. Um, so I can understand where that’s coming from. Uh, no, you don’t have to put in a title for your personal statement.
Um, that is not expected. You certainly could. Um, if you would like, I’ve seen a lot of, uh, personal statements with excellent titles, but that’s not required. Um, if you feel like you’re really pushing up at six 50 and you have a clever title, I think it’s probably wise to um, remove it. Um, but no, you don’t have to have a.
At all, every word matters. Um, you kind of got into this, but I’ve, I’ve seen it come up a couple of times. So I wanted to ask the question, can a personal statement be too personal, and if you kind of could kind of reiterate some of the topics folks should avoid or might wanna be mindful of writing about, um, as they get, as they try to get personal on the personal statement.
Yes, of course. Um, I don’t think that the personal statement can be too personal. It is very much about you. Um, it’s about your interests, your experiences, your activities. Um, my concerns about topics that don’t work are less about, um, the sort of in, in depth nature of them, um, than it is about what the focus of the essay is as a whole.
So feel free to approach those tough moments in your life. Um, or those, those deep victories, if there are serious emotional subjects, there’s nothing wrong with approaching them as long as you make sure that you’re telling a narrative, um, that involves you at the center. So make sure there isn’t a lot of background information, um, and, uh, make sure that.
Generally, if you are discussing struggle, um, that there’s a sort of positive ending to it in some way , um, that you are encouraging, um, the admissions committee to see you sort of as a person who will thrive at that institution. Um, so those examples that I pulled out before, again, there’s sort of shades of gray.
Um, there’s no right or wrong answer here. Um, but really I would say at the end of the day, um, do not, uh, be afraid to get super personal. This is definitely your moment to show off on those interests to the committee that wouldn’t appear. Thanks. Uh, once student had a question that kind of, uh, builds off of the last point, actually on your, on your slide right now.
Um, can you explain more what you mean by personal brand in regards to a high school student applying to university? Yes, of course. So the personal brand, um, is something that will. Be a sort of foundational aspect of your application as a whole. Um, so the essay is just one small part of that. Um, but I think it’s important to consider the essay in relation to your personal brand.
So the personal brand, um, and this is something that I know we’ve had other master classes about, so I don’t wanna step on their toes. Um, there’s lots of resources about this, um, that you can find elsewhere, um, is very much about crafting an individual, a very specific approach to your, uh, application. It includes the things that you’re focused on and your experiences finding that very specific niche that you can slide into.
Um, and as I mentioned, the personal brand is important for the essay because it connects among all of your interests. So rather than seeing you as someone who does 16 different things, and you’re crossed them off the list, because you’re applying to college, it’s more thinking about you as someone who has these interests that are connected, um, in specific ways.
And so the essay I think is probably your best chance, um, at tying your personal brand together in that case. Although again, that’s something that you’ll be working on throughout the effort. Process with your mentors or with your CollegeAdvisor advisors, uh, or who, whatever, uh, who is helping you with your application.
Um, can you do us a favor of clarifying the difference between the personal statement and supplemental essays? Yes, of course. Um, that is a very good question. And in some ways they’re similar and in other ways, uh, they are different. Um, so there are basically two different kinds of supplemental essays on the one on the one half.
Um, there’s what I would like to what I generally call the why essays, um, those questions that ask why a particular school, um, or more rarely why a particular major. And then there are also general questions that look a little bit like the Common App prompt that are sort of broader based, um, open approaches.
They’re different, they’re different in, in, uh, a couple of different ways. Um, supplemental essays are generally much shorter, although that’s not always the case, they’re often quite shorter. Um, they. Have the same openness as the Common App prompt. So, um, whereas in the case, the Common App, you have six or seven options, um, for the supplemental essays, you just have generally that one option, um, that you have to write about.
Um, and they also feature something that the Common App personal statement doesn’t have, which is the chance to. To hone in on a specific school because you’ll be submitting a supplemental essay specifically to one school that you’re applying to. Um, you can start to think a little bit about, um, what that school offers you in particular, you can reference that either, uh, sort of obliquely or explicitly, um, in your essay.
And so there’s a real chance to sort of dive into the school itself that you just don’t have in the personal statement. Um, however, in both cases, um, they offer a chance to think holistically, to think about your personal brand. Um, and I think it is definitely worth thinking about self mental essays as part of that broader personal statement, writing process.
For the reason that discussive, the more you self reflect, the more you free write and start to think about, um, the ways your interests connect, all of that information. Even if it doesn’t make it into your maybe especially if it doesn’t make it into your personal statement, um, will be very useful for self mental essays.
So that’s sort of a broad answer because there’s a whole range of types of self mental essays, and they differ depending on the school. Um, but by and large, they pertain more to the school themselves and regardless, they allow you a chance to sort of. Dive into the school in a way that the personal statement doesn’t.
Thank you. Um, someone asked, would you recommend talking about your culture in the DSA? Ah, yes. I think that, uh, is certainly welcome. I’ve read some excellent essays of students, um, evoking, all sorts of cultural backgrounds and experiences. Um, there’s one note of caution about that, um, which is connected to things that I’ve talked about already, um, which is just that make sure that those cultural experiences don’t require a ton of background information.
So make sure that if you’re talking. One of those small things that we’ve discussed, um, today in a different culture, um, make sure that you can find a way to encapsulate it briefly in a sort of American context, um, whether that’s just offering sort of a quick and ready translation or a comparison with something else.
Um, if it’s a cultural experience or an activity that you feel like will take a long time to explain, um, the sort of background, the history of, um, maybe that’s not the best choice for this essay. Um, but by and large, absolutely. You’re more than welcome to, um, evoke any sort of cultural background, um, in this case.
And I think all the same basic guidelines that we’ve discussed, um, for, uh, essays across the board, certainly work for those as well. Uh, one question is, does choosing the topic of your own choice, need a negative impression? So is it bad if you, if you can’t find an essay that fits into the prompt? Yeah, that’s an excellent question.
Um, the short answer to that is. Probably we generally recommend against, um, picking that seventh prompt, um, for exactly the reasons that you outlined that it gives a sense of you couldn’t fit it in, or you sort of can’t follow directions. There are certainly schools, um, that welcome creativity to the extreme.
Um, and in cases like that, I think they are, you know, sort of encouraging, uh, poetry or, you know, blowing up the block, blowing up the box completely. Um, but by and large, I would re. Trying to stay within those first six essay prompts. I deliberately mentioned the seventh or sort of kept the seventh as part of the group earlier, because I think it can be helpful to start to do some free writing for the seventh in case something Springs to mind.
Um, but what I really recommend about that open that seventh, that open prompt, um, is that an essay that you’ve devised for that. We’ll almost certainly be able to fit in one of the other topics. If you can adjust it in some way, that’s often something that will take, um, some help from a teacher or from an advisor, someone who can help you with that process.
Um, but I really, it’s, it’s really quite rare that I read an essay, um, that someone’s written under that prompt that I couldn’t find a pretty logical way of sliding into another prompt. Um, and the last thing I’ll say about that too, is that students often take that as an opportunity to bring in essays that they’ve written in class in high school.
Um, and I think that personal statement is such a different beast in that regard, um, that I definitely recommend against doing that, doing that. So make sure that if it is, if you do want to bring in an essay for that prompt, make sure that it’s certainly for a creative writing class, the very least, um, and something that’s very different than any sort of argumentative essay, um, that you would’ve written for for a regular course.
I’m, I’m glad I asked that question aloud. Cause I gave a different answer in the chat. I said, yeah, it’s fine. Um, and, and more cause normally, um, I haven’t seen too many students suffer from it and I think it’s there for students who. Who are a little bit more out of the box, but I appreciate you adding the nuance there.
Um, so a student you mentioned, and I, I feel like this might come for a lot of folks. Um, I remember you said not to talk too much about someone who you look up to, but what if they’ve accomplished, what if, what they’ve accomplished along the same path that I wanna explore? So I guess, could you give some tips on how, what are the most effective ways of talking about someone you admire in an essay while still keeping it personal specific to you?
Yes, that’s a great question. And again, I, I do want to sort of, um, to, to, to say again, that these are all shades of great. I’m not trying to shut the door on any of these topics. Um, these are sort of just basic guidelines to, to think about as you start to brainstorm this process. Um, yes, I, I think there are a couple of ways to shape an essay like that.
Um, and the most important one is to make sure that your discussion of the person is either so integrated into the essay itself, that it becomes sort of part of that broader narrative, so that you’re sort of trading in between the two of you, um, in a way that doesn’t feel like. The first half is about this person and the second half is about now, here’s what I’m gonna do along the same lines, or here’s why they inspire me.
And the other way to think about that might be to start with that person, but make sure that you jump very quickly into your experiences. So, um, we talk a lot in essay writing. This is something we can talk about. It doesn’t necessarily pertain to brainstorming. Um, with essay writing, we talk a lot about hooks and finding those, um, ways to capture the reader’s attention at the beginning of the essay.
That might be a great hook talking about someone who’s inspired you, um, to do or to change your thinking on whatever the topic of your essay is. Um, they would then allow you to dive into the essays if it were sort of a more traditional about me essay. Um, and then you could bring them back at the end tie back to that hook at the end.
So again, there are no red lines here in the sand. Um, and so I think there are definitely, uh, some clever ways to tie that. And I, I hope that helped. Thank you. Um, I lost my question. Give one second. Sorry.
Oh, no. All right. I will ask a different question until I find the other question. There’s so many, thank you all so much. I know there are so many, um, well, someone was asking before, if you have tips about, um, connecting. So they, they feel like as a writer, they struggle with flow throughout the essay. So do you have, I guess, editing tips or ways that once you get done you, should you.
Smart ways you can go back in order to create better flow throughout the essay. Yes. That’s a very big question. uh, yeah, there’s a lot to say. Uh, I think one of the tips I mentioned earlier, writing more, not less of this process will definitely help with that. The more that you have and can cut back on will always be easier, um, throughout the editing process and will certainly help with flow if you can find, um, repetition or any issues that come up within that broader essay.
So I would say always shoot for more than 650 words and then try to cut it back rather than, um, Sort of building up slowly as much as you can, to 650 words. Um, yeah. Flow is a tricky subject because I think really at the end of the day, it ties itself so carefully to organization. Um, and that’s, I think often a distinction, um, that people make much clearer or much sort of stronger.
It’s a stronger distinction than I think it has to be. Um, because I think flow is certainly both within the grammar, uh, and the syntax and the particulars of your writing style. Um, but flow is also so carefully based on, um, your movement through the essay, the narrative, the story that you’re trying to tell.
Um, so I would say that maybe one way to think about flow that I often encourage my students to consider, um, is instead of sort of focusing on that nitty gritty, um, make sure that you have a very clear sense of the narrative, um, throughout your essay, um, and make sure that you’re sort of, that you’re able to walk yourself through the essay almost without reading it, go back to the essay itself, look through it, um, and sort of cut it down that way based on the broader organization, um, rather than the sort of particulars of your writing.
Thank you. You, you said it was a hard question, but you’re nailing these. Um, so there’s a question of regard. Word limit. So is, is there too much? Um, and is there too little, um, around, uh, the personal statement? Yes. So the personal statement has a word range, um, which is about, which is, I think exactly 250 to 650 words.
And there is most, certainly too little or too much because, uh, at least, uh, this is the case last year. I think it’s the same case this year. You can’t physically, uh, send in your application if you have more than 650 words or pure than 250 words. So they’ll make it very clear. if you’re not within, uh, that range of words now, I think there’s often a push from students to try to get as close to 650 as possible to sort of end up with exactly six 50.
It feels like you get a gold star or 649. Um, and well, I think you should definitely take advantage of all the space that you have. Don’t worry, you feel like you’ve written, uh, an excellent essay. Um, and you know, you’re at 600 words or you’re at 580 words or something, and you feel like you just need to add stuff to get to 650.
Um, if you are a little bit below it, um, I, I, I wouldn’t worry about just adding in stuff just to add it. Um, so it really is a ranged and I, I think admissions readers really take it as a range. Um, and as long as you’re much closer to the 650 side than the 250 side , uh, you’ll be fine. Thank you for that.
Um, so I’m gonna just take a quick break and say for. In the room who haven’t already been working with us, we know you have a ton of questions and the admissions process is incredibly overwhelming. So just wanna let you know that our team of over 300 former admissions officers, um, and admissions experts are ready to help you and your family navigate this process in one, on one advising sessions, you can take the next step in your college admissions journey and sign up with us for a free 45 to 60 minute strategy session with an admission specialist on our team.
You can use the resources found on this slide here during that conversation, uh, we’ll review your extracurricular list. Talk about your application strategy, discuss how everything aligns with your college list and also outline some tools you’ll need in order to stand out in the competitive field that is college divisions these days.
So, uh, take advantage of this, go to the website, give us a call. We hope that you’ll follow up with us. Um, but now PSA over back to the Q&A, um, I think this is a question that’s interesting. Um, They were talking, you mentioned being creative, showcasing your well roundedness, but there are some students who are extremely good in stem subjects and tend to lack their creative writing skills.
So for folks who don’t feel as confident about writing, what are some tips, um, how do they beat the fact that, you know, they’d much rather submit a lab report than a personal statement? Perhaps? Yes. I would say most importantly, do not worry. I, I, I know that I spend a bit of time today, uh, talking about, uh, the personal statement, being different from the writing that your peers and the humanities, um, have been, doing, uh, that there’s this, this shift, the autobiographical nature, the use of dialogue, that breakdown of paragraphs that I understand, um, can be much more friendly to students who are interested in studying English or, or history of humanities based programs.
But. um, those shifts are quite different from any high school essay. So you’re really not that different, um, from your peers in the humanities, I promise that you’re not at a considerable disadvantage in anywhere near to the degree that you might think you are. Um, especially cuz the personal statement does not have to be way outside the box.
That is, uh, it’s quite rare. I think that students really, uh, formed the essay in any significant ways. If, if writing doesn’t come easily to you though, or you feel very nervous about your writing, um, I certainly recommend follow all the brainstorming tests we’ve discussed um, but also, um, That having a background in the sciences or mathematics or agriculture or wherever you are in the world of non humanities, um, can be really helpful as some of the best essays that I’ve read and worked on, have been from students tying between those interests and other aspects of their life.
Um, if you think critically about say science’s role in daily life, um, it’s relationship to everyday activities, um, it’s, I importance to you in a variety of ways, um, that is not cliche, um, nowhere near as cliche, as you might think. Um, and it’s a really, really insightful approach to take that I think is more rare than you might expect.
So I would say in some ways you’re at a bit of an advantage there that you have, um, many more topics, um, to discuss that will be unique and unusual for admissions readers. Um, really at the end of the day, the, uh, the essay is, is, is a little new. It’s a little different for everyone, um, in high school. So you’re not, you’re, you’re truly not far behind in any way, shape or form, uh, your humanities.
I think stem people also under underestimate themselves. I’ve seen some stem folks write really beautiful essays when they’re kind of describing looking through a microscope. Like I don’t, I don’t see the same thing that you see. So there, you know, I think when you step back and actually think about how you wanna talk about the science, um, it actually has being something really beautiful.
And I think unexpected for a lot of those folks, uh, questions come up a couple of times, and I don’t know if you have the right answer for this, but can I add some comedy? What if I think I’m funny and I wanna integrate that into my essay. What, you know, what are the effective ways of doing. Yeah, I definitely, you, you absolutely should feel free to add comedy.
I think that’s a great example of that sort of creativity that works within the box, um, that doesn’t, you know, uh, transform the, the essay as a concept or as a genre. Um, but that, that sort of adds in a bit of, uh, a bit of fun. And I think also is a great opportunity to show off your personal voice, um, your personal outlook on life.
Um, I, I think comedy is a fantastic approach. Um, there are a couple of fun ways to add comedy to essays. I think one is to sort of, um, do the classic sort of twist at the end. Uh, it can be a little tricky to get exactly right. Um, but when it’s done well, it’s really good. Um, if you start with an essay that sort of focused on one thing, or it seems to be taking a certain approach to topic, and then you can flip that around, um, that comedic aspect works incredibly well.
Um, you’re also of course, welcome to use a hook that is a joke, uh, or a pun, um, that I, I think I always expect to see that more. Um, but that doesn’t occur very often, so that, that could work really well. Um, and. One of the aspects of common essays that I think is becoming a little more common actually, um, is that students are incorporating dialogue.
They’re sort of breaking down paragraphs completely, um, and just sort of writing in straight dialogue for part probably don’t do it for all of your essay, but for part of the essay. Um, and so some comedic dialogues back and forth there, um, would work really well as well. So yeah, you have all sorts of opportunities to, to, to add comedy.
I, I definitely recommend it lot. The recommendation around dialogue, I’ve seen students actually integrate their culture that way of using dialogues, integrating brief sentences in another language to talk about how, especially if they’re talking about family, cuz this is if you’re speaking your family in another language.
So I think they’re yeah. Dialogue is actually an opportunity to do a lot of different things and introduce a lot of different aspects of yourself. Um, uh, one question is, would talking about your potential or areas for growth be too risky, specifically around subject areas for the personal statement. So talking about not doing so well at math or, or failing a class.
It, I, I think that very much depends on what you hope to accomplish with it, which is to say that some of that information, if you are, if you feel like you’re adding that to your essay to sort of explain away issues that you’ve had or problems, I think it’s definitely best to keep that for, um, sort of additional questions in the Common App itself.
There’s definitely room for that. Um, where you can explain, um, moments in your education or struggles that you’ve had, or. Um, a particular possible red flag that might appear on a transcript, say you’re an extracurricular list. Um, so there are moments for that existing in the Common App. Um, but that being said, um, if you are thinking of it as an opportunity to highlight other aspects of your life as in, um, what you did instead, or how you overcame that, those, those moments of, uh, overcoming triumph rather than covering up for anything missing.
I think that could definitely work quite well. Um, make sure that, uh, you’re thinking about how it connects with your topic. Um, but also that it might give you a chance to, to discuss other things, um, in your life. If, if it say connects with your, uh, drive to complete other tasks in life, um, if you can tie it to other interests of yours, other activities of yours, um, other qualities of yours, then I think that could work right quite well.
So make sure that you know exactly why you’d be adding that, um, as your essay topic, um, before deciding to go down that route. Thanks. Um, a student ask and I’m gonna ask it a little bit more broadly, but if a student is applying to art school, would it be wise to talk about art in the creative process, in their essay?
Should they avoid that? And I’m gonna say that generally, if you’re you wanna go into medicine, you’re applying for BSMD programs. How often should be talking about your love of medicine, your love of science. If you’re trying to do something specific, how much should that show up in the, in the personal.
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I would say it certainly doesn’t have to. Um, but I think it’s, it’s generally a good, I good idea to have a personal statement that at least addresses that in some way, if you know that that’s what you want to go into. And especially if you’re using the Common App to apply only to a certain set of schools like that, um, you know, it would be a little odd say if you were using the Common App to apply, if it’s arch related to say Rhode Island, school of design, where, you know, very focused arts programs, as well as, uh, university Illinois, which, you know, you would be applying to sort of a broader undergraduate program.
Um, but, um, I think it doesn’t necessarily have to be, um, a sort of straightforward, again, as we, as we discussed, it doesn’t have to be a straightforward list of accomplishments. There, there are sort of other ways of tying that together, um, that can include both referencing your background in those, um, in, in those departments and those disciplines, um, In light of a different topic, a topic that discusses say a broader issue, or even a narrower issue that then you can call out, um, to your experiences in medicine or arts in that way.
Um, and I also think that there’s great value. Um, In using an issue like that or a background like that, um, to fill in the connections between various aspects of your life. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot today, but I think even for a student, who’s very sort of driven to a, a specific subject. Um, that can be a really great example of saying, okay, here’s everything on my transcript related to the subject.
Here’s everything related to my extracurricular list on the subject. Here’s everything that you can’t see relate to the subject, all the reading I do for fun. Um, all the volunteer work or all the performances or all the practicing, all the lab work, all the stuff that doesn’t appear on paper. Um, and here’s how all of these combined, um, to, uh, make me into the applicant, uh, and the person I am today.
So I think there are a couple different ways to do that. So don’t feel like you absolutely have to, um, and make sure that you aren’t just listing all your triumphs in that field. Um, but that is often a very good idea, especially for the most specialized programs, um, like BSMD programs, uh, or arts program.
Definitely. I think you’re speaking to the fact that admissions is holistic. And I think a lot of families don’t believe us when we say that, that like, they’re gonna look at everything. They’re gonna look at the essay. They’re gonna look at your grades. They’re gonna look at your test scores. And so everything is, is on an even footing.
It’s not either, or they’re gonna look at, at everything and look at you as a, as a holistic person, as much as they can in the process. Um, uh, one question is, are admissions officers looking for a perfectly written essay? Do you need to be obsessed about grammar and use words that make you sound like a genius?
Ah, uh, yes and no on that one. um, yes, you should definitely focus on grammar and syntax. That is a very important part of the Common App essay. It’s sort of your one chance, uh, especially if the school doesn’t have supplemental essays to show off your school as a writer. Um, so definitely take the time to carefully line, edit your essay, um, show it to others to have, um, editing experience, or just happy to be a, a second pair of eyes, um, on that essay.
But definitely don’t feel the need, uh, to include words that make you sound like a genius. The, the focus here is on being honest and truthful. Uh, it’s it’s on telling a good story and crafting the narrative about yourself. Um, it’s always wise to avoid cliches, um, or sort of stark idioms. Um, and so don’t feel like you need to pull out the, the source for this one at all.
Um, I think often in some cases to go back to flow, um, words like that can interrupt the flow of a otherwise, uh, successfully flowing paragraph. Um, so editing, yes, uh, the need to include genius words. Definitely not. You, you you’ll have taken the ACT or SAT in most cases and had some , some people can practice.
So they’ll have seen that already. And I think that takes away from voice right. Authentically of like, there’s not a lot of. 17 year olds walking around using the world in snarled. Um, and we’re in general conversation, you know, um, Yeah. Be authentic in, in your own natural voice today that possible, um, uh, can writing about a current world event.
Like the pandemic be okay. As long as the focus is on the student and the growth. And if you could also speak more broadly about, um, I know there are, have been opportunities to write about the pandemic recently in some of the college applications. So if you can speak to kind of, both of. Um, questions. Yes.
Um, I think again, I don’t wanna shut any topics down. Um, you, there are certainly excellent essays that I’ve read about the pandemic. Um, my one concern about that is I think, uh, this many years out now, this many application seasons of, of, uh, admissions committees, reading those essays, it will start to feel a little bit cliche.
Um, so make sure that if you do wanna discuss something. Dramatic happen in the pandemic, certainly. Or if, you know, if your, uh, sense of, of the world or your daily activities change so much during the pandemic. Um, I think it can be wise to couch that again, within, within a broader topic or even a narrower topic, something that focuses more on say, um, you know, your outlook on life with the pandemic being one part of it, or if you’re focusing on a particular object, um, in your home, how that might have your relationship with it might have changed during the pandemic.
Um, rather than that sort of, I think now quite typical essay of my life change cause the pandemic. Here’s why, um, and yes, the questions about pandemic change in college applications, it remains a little bit unclear how many of them will stay on college applications, um, during this submission cycle. And those are also quite tricky to deal with, um, because you don’t want to, uh, sort of come off as callous in any way, um, or come off as describing, uh, some sort of very.
How can I phrase this? So the very straightforward, simplistic issues, um, knowing could be knowing that there’ll be other students who are, uh, who have been affected by death and, and trauma and serious sickness and other, perhaps more significant issues in the pandemic. So I would say unless you have something, um, that is considerably related to the pandemic, um, you are certainly welcome to, uh, not answer that question if it’s, um, a optional question.
Um, but I think
maybe not. That’s fair. Um, yeah. well, yeah, I mean, I, I, I work for, I work with some students who, you know, had significant unemployment challenges or, you know, online school. So I think it depends on like the weight and the impact and the ongoing impact that it’s had on your life and how you, how you choose to integrate it.
So it depends ultimately is the answer to that question, but, um, um, so there are a couple questions around structure. I think some people are asking about outlines, but I think some people also just wanna know, like, so what exactly is the structure of the personal statement? Another student asked should the SAP one continuous paragraph should break it up.
Um, so what should it look like generally on the page and then is there a certain flow or structure or outline that, um, essays should have or ought. Yes, that’s a great question. I know I’ve talked a lot about the sort of movement away from a five paragraph essay. Um, but again, that doesn’t mean that the frame is destroyed completely.
It’s not that there are necessarily no rules, um, or that, uh, you know, you are, you’re sort of not writing in paragraphs at all, or it’s all poetic. Uh, it could be of course. Um, but I think for 99%, um, of essays, it’s just a change, um, in the structure of the paragraph at a very. Um, so really what I mean is that the basic form of the essay, the sort of thesis body conclusion, um, tends to be blown up a bit as does the emphasis certainly on equal paragraphs of a certain length.
Um, some essays that I’ve read have had many more than five. Some have fewer, I don’t think I’ve ever read one with one essay. Um, but gosh, it could be a challenge to try to write an essay with like one sentence of no. Uh but, uh, there’s a lot of freedom there of how those, um, essays divide themselves up.
Um, it’s not the numbers that matter so much as what you do with it. So there will have to be a thesis of some kind. Um, and I use thesis in a very broad sense. Um, it’s not. It’s very rarely as explicit as an expository essay. Um, but you will have, or want to make sure that the topic that the thesis topic is clear enough for the reader, um, to understand how you responding to the prompt and what the folks of your essay really is.
Um, you have some freedom about where that thesis can appear. So rather than the traditional five paragraph essay, or generally occurs, you all know sort of last sentence of the first, uh, paragraph, um, it can be at the end of the first paragraph as, so it can be, um, perhaps at a, uh, sort of a little bit further down, it could even appear at the end of the essay.
You could sort of slowly reveal that thesis. Um, the middle paragraph can certainly defend the thesis again as in a five paragraph essay, but they can also play a range of other rules. They can provide alternatives, they can offer connections, they could argue against the thesis. You have a lot more flexibility here.
Um, and that’s a lot of options. I know. Um, so what I would say more plainly is that your first paragraph, instead of being sort of that basic outline of a thesis should be a hook. Um, you should consider placing the reader in the middle of the action, uh, inside a moment of dialogue, something that really drags the reader in, um, and the topic should arise naturally, um, out of that, uh, hook, um, and that thesis, and I wouldn’t worry about trying to find an exact placement for the thesis, the middle paragraphs, um, as such however many, there are, um, will likely be chronological in some form or will flower hours from the topic there’s sort of pretty traditional.
Flow for the middle paragraphs. Um, and the final paragraph doesn’t have to be a conclusion. It can continue the action. It can sort of build outwards even more. Um, but the best essays that I’ve read to connect back to the hook, um, which ties the essay together, um, and often shows off your skills as a writer.
So to conclude first the hook, then a sort of chronology or connection section, um, and then, uh, tie back to the original hook at the end. So any number of paragraphs, um, it could certainly be five. It works out to be five. There’s a lot of freedom here. Um, but that’s exactly the point that the, the freedom of this essay is something the admission committee is looking for.
Um, and I’ll say again, that reading the essays that worked, that I sent over, um, will be a huge help in this sort of getting a sense of what other students have have taken from that hope that I know, I know you have read a ton of essays because I I’ve. So many essays and I could not summarize a, a, a structure in the way that you just did.
So I know you have me beat at this point. Um, our final question, because you were mentioning hooks and I think this might be just a valuable way of just like, is it okay to use quotes for a hook or, or, you know, how can or should students integrate quotes, um, throughout their essays? Yes, definitely. Um, I think some of the best hooks that I’ve read have been, um, dialogic in some way of saying, um, you know, here’s the middle of this conversation.
Here’s a question perhaps, um, that’s the middle of a conversation, um, or here’s as, um, uh, as an issue was mentioning, um, a moment to dive into a different culture, different language, um, hooks can be all sorts of things. Um, dialogue is quite common. Um, I think starting the technical term of this, of in media re a beginning in the middle of the action, um, generally works quite well.
Um, hooks could also be, um, Hooks, they say a little tricky, but hooks could also often be pronouncements. Um, they can sometimes be, uh, quotes from others. Um, although that can start to feel a little bit like sort of the, the, the thesis of your topic. Um, so hooks have a lot of flexibility and a lot of freedom.
And what I can say most about writing hooks is that don’t worry about them right away, approach the topic, um, approach the prompt, uh, sort of work through the narrative and, and, and how you feel the essay should go. Um, and at the end of that process, I think it can often make a lot of sense, um, to tie it to the, the hook can often be the topic in a different form, which is to say that you could sort of take the topic itself, um, and project it in a surprising way, an interesting way, um, place it, yeah.
In dialogue or something like that. Um, and sort of let it bubble up from there. So don’t feel like you need to start your essay with the first sentence. I feel like that’s often, no matter the, the, the, the essay, not the best idea, um, Yeah, I hope that helps. no. Yeah. I, and for sure, I feel like I’ve had students who got stuck because they’re like, I can’t get my hook down.
It’s like, it can literally be the last thing that you write. We have to write the rest of this essay first. Um, so yeah, trying to be compelling at the jump can and sometimes delay folks, but unfortunately that is the end of our session tonight. Thank you everyone for coming out and thank you so much, Gareth for tackling all these great questions.
I really enjoyed hearing from you today. Uh, we hope you gained some insights, tips, strategies for beginning and strengthening your personal statement. Don’t forget that you can access the slides that Gareth put together via the handouts tab. We, um, we also hope that you’ll join us for our other webinars this month.
Next week, we will have an NYU Panel on the 23rd, John’s Hopkins panel on the 20 I’m sorry, NYU on the 22nd, Johns Hopkins on the 23rd, Engineering on the 29th. And we’ll close out the month with CraftingYour Personal Brand for folks who had that lingering question, come back and join us on the 30th, um, until next time, have a great evening, everyone.
And thank you again, Gareth. Thanks for y’all. Take care.