CollegeAdvisor Masterclass: Editing Your Essays

Unlock the Power of Persuasive Writing: Join Our CollegeAdvisor Masterclass on Editing Your Essays! Dive into the art of essay editing to enhance the impact of your college application. Key Learnings: 1. Crafting Compelling Introductions: – Learn techniques to grab the reader’s attention from the very first sentence. 2. Structural Mastery: – Understand the anatomy of a strong essay structure for maximum impact. 3. Show, Don’t Tell: – Hone the skill of vivid storytelling to make your experiences resonate. 4. Grammar and Style Refinement: – Brush up on essential grammar rules and refine your writing style. 5. Addressing Common Pitfalls: – Identify and avoid common mistakes that can weaken your essay’s impact. Why Attend? – Elevate your essays to stand out in the competitive college admissions process. – Receive practical tips from former admissions officer and essay expert Aya Waller-Bey – Q&A session to address specific concerns and challenges. Don’t miss this opportunity to refine your essays and make a lasting impression on college admissions officers!

Date 12/06/2023
Duration 1:01:17

Webinar Transcription

2023-12-06 – CollegeAdvisor Masterclass: Editing Your Essays

Stacey: Hi, everyone. My name is Stacey Tuttle, and I am your moderator today. Welcome to, “CollegeAdvisor Masterclass: Editing Your Essays.” To orient everyone with the webinar timing, we’ll start off with a presentation and then answer your questions in a live Q&A. On the sidebar, you can download our slides and you can start submitting questions in the Q&A tab.

Without further ado, let’s meet our panelist, Aya.

Aya: Hi, everyone. Good morning. Good afternoon. Or good evening, depending on where you are, uh, in the world joining us today. My name is Aya Waller-Bey, and I am a former missions officer from Georgetown University. Just want to give you a little context about my background.

I’ve been working with CollegeAdvisor going on my 3rd application cycle. So I’ve had the pleasure of working with young people through various processes and emissions. And I’m super excited to talk to you today. I am from Detroit, Michigan, born and raised, and I am a proud 1st generation college student.

And just in case you don’t know what that means. I was the first person in my family to obtain a four year degree. I went on to Georgetown University where I studied sociology. And then I, after my tenure, I graduated and became an admissions officer and coordinator of multicultural recruitment. In my capacity as an admissions officer, I read for primarily for states in the Midwest, but also African American black students.

I also read for those students as well. After my tenure, I graduated or finished my, my tenure in admissions and got my master’s at the University of Cambridge in England and, uh, in education. So. Got to live across the pond. And while there, I was an alumni interviewer for Georgetown as well. I’m currently finishing my PhD in sociology at the University of Michigan, go blue, where I also study the college essay.

So I have a lot of time, a lot of experience, um, talking about the college admissions essay, writing about the college admissions essay, thinking about the college admissions essay. So I look forward to talking to you all today about the Just skills and approaches if you will to editing your college admissions essay.

Stacey: Great. Thank you so much Aya, so now that we know a little bit about you as the presenter I do want to get a sense of who is in the room with us Um today so Please fill out the poll. It should appear in front of you shortly. If it hasn’t already. Are you in 8th grade, 9th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade, 12th grade, um, or you fall in this other category, meaning maybe you’re a parent or somebody who might be exterior to the high school application process, or perhaps you’re a post grad.

Um, So let us know who you are. And with that, you know, I know that you’re in the middle of writing your dissertation right now. When you were at Georgetown, did you have any inclination that you’d end up? working in admissions during your undergrad?

Aya: Absolutely not. Um, I don’t even think I thought about, um, like the role of admissions officers.

I mean, when you get into a school like Georgetown, you, a part of you is just happy that you’re there. Um, but there, it felt like there wasn’t a lot of communication with the admissions office. Um, so I just, it wasn’t something that I thought about. Um, and it really, and I think that’s often the case of folks who are admissions officers.

I interview admissions officers for my research. Um, and there’s usually. They kind of stumbled into the role, which is what I did, or they worked in the admissions office at their undergraduate institution. So they gave tours or something along those lines. I didn’t do that. So it wasn’t something I expected, but it, it was one of the most fulfilling, um, in, uh, transformative, uh, things that I’ve done.

It, it, it truly changed the trajectory of my life because I, I, I now research college admissions. So I’m so happy. But I did it

Stacey: amazing and we are benefiting from that directly tonight. So I’m really excited to learn more from you. Um, and looking at the room today. It seems like we have sort of an even split amongst sophomores, juniors, seniors, and we have a few any other categories.

So whoever your background is welcome tonight or. this morning or this afternoon, wherever you are. And with that, I’m going to turn it over to Aya for the main part of the presentation.

Aya: Awesome. Thank you so much, Stacey. Yeah, so let’s just dive in here. I mean, first and foremost, you know, what are the essays that you will have to encounter in the college application?

Now, as Stacey mentioned, that we do seem to have a diversity of students here from seniors to sophomores to freshmen. Students who may have identified as other a part of me. I always check the other box, so I probably skewed the data as well. But there are three primary essays that students often encounter when they’re applying to college.

The first is a college personal statement. So that’s an essay submitted to college and universities that showcase your voice, your writing skills, and really add depth and context to your application. Now, typically you have one common app essay. So if you use the Common App platform, there’s one essay you write.

And you submit it to all of your schools. You also have some institutions who are not on the common app such as my alma mater Georgetown where you will write one essay Um separately from the application that you will submit to them in some cases students will write that common app personal statement And then they will use that same essay Uh for the Georgetown application, but also for other schools who are not on the common app essay, so from Common App Application Platform.

So that, again, that personal statement is talking about your personal background, your identity, um, things that you’ve experienced, endured, overcome, your likes, your academic interests, etc. There’s often a lot of diversity and prompts that students can choose to write about. Then you have those supplemental essays.

Now, these are additional school specific essays, and they invite you to write about a diverse The topics, you know, unlike that personal statement where you write that one and you submit it to, you know, the 20 schools in your list for the five schools in your list that supplement essay, they’re often, you know, they’re not required by all colleges is only some, um, require supplement essays and there also might be optional ones, but it’s really used to highlight fit.

Right? So you have institutions like University of Chicago who might be known for some of their more creative prompts, such as, you know, If you were a wisdom tooth, what would you say or something along those lines? Um, and then you have that standard why us essay, you know, where institution asks, why do you want to attend the University of Michigan, the why us essay, which are quite common, right?

And then. There’s also for schools that have scholarships or provide, you know, merit based aid, you have the scholarship essay. And again, less common, but they certainly exist. And you might be, you know, invited to write additional essay for merit based scholarships or grants that may already be on the application when you go to apply.

You might get a, uh, an email later saying, hey, I’m Giving your, you know, academic profile, write this essay to be considered for their scholarship. Um, so those vary widely as well, but these are the three kind of primary essays, um, that you might encounter. I will say this, which surprises a lot of people, they, um, because I, I think so, um, a certain type of institutions are more selective.

Collective institutions, um, tend to dominate discourse about college admissions that there are actually more universities on the Common App that do not require an essay at all, okay? There’s actually more, uh, universities on the Common App that don’t require an essay at all than there are those that do.

So that often shocks people because we hear so much about the essay, the essay, essay, but there’s actually a great deal of schools that don’t require essays at all for, um, to be considered for admission. So just something to think about now, this is a very important question. It’s also one of my favorites to talk about, you know, what is the significance? Um, I didn’t mention this earlier, but a part of my dissertation is I’m interviewing undergraduate students, and I’m asking them to reflect on the decisions that they made when they were crafting their college admissions essay.

Um, and I asked them, what is the, what do they believe to be the role and significance of a college admissions essay? You know, and I hear, you know, some of these responses, right? It adds a unique touch, you know, it provides an opportunity for them to talk directly to the admissions office and their own words.

It adds that qualitative information to the application. What we mean by that is the admissions officers are going to see those, uh, those grades, right? Your grade point average. They’re also going to look at the marks you receive in your grades, right? Whether you got a 86 percent and, you know, calculus versus, you know, 95 and, you know, APush.

So they’re going to see your grades right numerically often, and they’re going to see those test scores if they require it, um, or, and that could be scores from foreign language exams. That could be AP scores. It can also just be the standardized test, the ACT or the SAT, right? So they’re going to see those things, right?

And often our scores and our grades, they’re reflecting the things you’ve already done, right? And what I mean by that is you cannot go back in time. At least I don’t think you can. And if you can, please send me an email because I would love to do that. But if you can, you know, you can’t go back in time and retake that bio class, right?

Your sophomore year. So your essay is an opportunity for you to talk directly to the admissions office at that very moment. You’re, you get to project about the future. You get to talk about your wants and your desires. And again, it asks this beautiful context about your background, your identity, your passions, your circumstances, right?

You really get to talk about who you are. And also. Think about this. When you are applying to college, you get, if the school require it, you have the letter of recommendation, which might come from You know, a teacher or two teachers and in some schools, uh, two teachers and high school counselor, a parent or a sibling or pure essay, right?

Or a letter of recommendation rather. So there’s so many opportunities where other people are talking about you, right? So your teachers, your counselors, your parents, your coaches, you know, religious figures, et cetera. The essay is one of those few times the universities gets to hear directly from you in your own words.

Now there are sometimes schools have an optional video. I think New Chicago has an optional video, right? There’s also schools that have interviews. Georgetown requires an interview. Other schools interview students if, if they have the capacity. So that’s another example, but that personal statement is more broadly that opportunity for you to talk directly to the admissions officers.

Now, This is a very, very, very popular question, as you may imagine, because everyone wants to figure out how they can add some oomph to their application, how they can stand out in their application, how they can be seen, what can help to just, you know, distinguish them from their peers, right? Everyone wants to stand out.

I do think sometimes we overemphasize standing out when that may not necessarily be the goal or the role of a college personal statement. It’s really less about standing out or just more about standing in, right? Like being true to yourself, like really showing case who you are, right? Putting what you are and who you are from the inside and putting that, you know, on your, on the, on the page, right?

So I really want you to think about, you know, when writing this essay that you want to be great. You want to present your information and ideas in a focus and thoughtful manner, right? You want to use these specific and concrete examples. Talk about where you live. Talk about what you see, what you smell.

You really want to be specific, right? And again, I, when people say, well, my life is very similar to the others. Kids who live in the suburbs who also play hockey. I’m not really different. You are different because no one is you, you know, you have a particular routine, you know, maybe a morning routine. You might have certain allergies.

You might have favorite foods. Your, your family, your culture might have specific traditions. You might learn a specific type of instrument. You know, you might have a certain relationship with a parent or a coach or, you know, your pastor or, you know, there’s all these things that make you special, right?

That make you who you are and you want to be able to talk about those things. You also want to, you know, talk about, it could be your personal triumphs or challenges, your leadership opportunities, your experiences outside the classroom, and your experiences inside the classroom as well. I mean, you could talk about your academic interests.

There is actually a prompt for that, for that in the Common App as well. So I want you to focus on just thinking about you and being earnest and sincere, and not just prioritizing Oh, I think they want to hear this. Like, I think they want to hear that. I’m like, uh, you know, the Boy Scout troop and I’m the leader did it and I won all these awards.

Like, sure. Right. I know there was an opportunity to talk about that. You have that extracurricular list, you know, where you can list your activities or the activities list. They can see you’ve excelled in certain classes. They’ll have your transcript. They’ll know you’re a strong student, um, based on your, your grades, your test scores, and what your letters of recommendation say about you.

So you really want to show some more depth, right? Some more character, integrity, you know, excellence in other ways, leadership, service, advocacy, you know, you really want to show these other dynamics. And of course, it demonstrates good use of grammar, right? You know, um, some schools use the essay as a writing example, and those tend to be schools where they more open access universities where they just want to make sure that the students who are applying can meet a certain level of, you know, writing proficiency, et cetera.

But in most cases, the essay is really, you know, they want to. It should be free from major errors, right? It should be able to, it should reflect you as a student. You should be writing your own essays, of course, and we’ll talk a little bit more about that soon. But you, at minimum, you want to use a good use of grammar, and there’s grammarly plugins, you know, there’s peers who could take a look at it, friends, families, teachers, etc.

So in continuing, you know, again, what makes for a great essay, you know, great essay, again, It ensures that, you know, the essay answers the question. That actually should be the first thing on the slide, on the other slide as well. I mean, answering the question is critical. And this is especially, especially important for supplements, right?

So again, supplements, as you said earlier, those specialized essays that are more school specific, not all schools require them. It could be the why Dartmouth essay, it could be what would a wisdom tooth say at the University of Chicago, it could ask you to talk about your academic interests, it could ask you to talk about your interest in an honors college, if you will.

Um, but you really want to answer the question. They also tend to be shorter too, um, the supplements. Not always. Some of them are equally long as a personal statement. Some of them can be 400 words. Sometimes it could be one sentence. Sometimes it could be one word. Sometimes it could be 250 to 500 words.

So you really want to make sure you’re answering the questions, right? So when you’re writing just going back to the top, am I answering the question? You also want to effectively describe how they experienced the that you talk about has led to some growth or understanding or sense of belongingness or some way that it demonstrates your maturity or character of open mindedness, right?

So it’s not enough to just say, you know, I’m today, you know, I’m just gonna write an essay about my walk home from school and then the essay you just talk about walking home, but you don’t say, okay, your essay should be able to answer the question. So what? What is so special about this walk from home or walk home right from school?

What is so special about that? Why do you think we need to know that? What are you hoping to communicate? What do you want to walk away with me learning? So what? Why should we care? What is important? What is value? What did you learn from this? Where’s the growth? Okay, That’s what you want to make sure your your essays are answering but you know those personal statements of supplements Why should we care?

Okay, it might be important to you because you know, I have a really good relationship with my grandma And we used to walk home all the time. She would come pick me up from school and we would just walk home. Okay, that’s great. But what did you learn from that interaction? How has that informed your thinking? Right? How does that inform who you are? How you engage with others? Maybe it’s alter your relationship with walking or and physical health, etc. So you’ve got to go a little beyond and make sure you can answer the question. So what? You also want to ensure that it reflects your voice, right? It should be polished, free of major grammatical errors and typos, but it should not read like a professor wrote it.

And what we mean by that is, I, I read a lot of essays when I taught undergrad, you know, I read essays from college students. I could tell that those essays were written by college students. I could tell for the most part that those, when essays are written by high school students. I can tell when there, there’s been a lot of help because the prose is different.

It’s a different style. So at the end of the day, you want to write like you, you want to write it in your voice. Again, professional, right? You’re not sending, you know, a DM or Instagram direct message to a friend. This is, you’re writing for a professional audience. But it still should have that, you know, it should sound like you, you know, you don’t need to use every word in a thesaurus, right?

You don’t need to inundate us with vocabulary that the average person won’t know what it means, um, so make sure your voice is reflected. And again, you want to use specific, I mean, a lot, a lot of feedback I find myself giving is show, don’t tell, right? Where people are just, You know, I learned a lot, you know, while during my walks and with my grandmother and then they move on to something else and they don’t say what they learned.

They don’t describe the walk. You can use concrete examples, okay? You want to focus on the present and near past. Uh, when you’re kind of thinking about the stories you choose to tell now, what are some common mistakes to avoid? And I’ve already kind of flirted with a little bit of this, you know, Um, this is a really popular one.

And I’m so happy. I spoke early about the grandma example, and I talk about grandparents. I was very close to my grandparents, particularly my grandfather. So I have a special affinity for grandparents. Um, but, you know, we sometimes write essays that focus on other people, and they don’t center us. They don’t center our stories and we are the people applying to college.

So you’ll see people write essays that tell the story of a grandparent. And the whole essay is about the grandparent. The grandparent was a veteran. The grandparent did this. They bought a house in a neighborhood. And then, you know, the grandparent taught them how to play blackjack. And then they used to, you know, And then the whole essay is about grandparents and I walk away when I want, you know, wanting to admit the grandparent like, oh, wow, this grandparent is amazing.

I want, you know, Papa Joe to be admitted to my institution. However, I’m not looking to admit grandparent, right? I’m trying to admit the student. So you need to be able to, you can talk about other people. There might be an essay prompt that invites you to talk about someone who inspired you. But you need to be making sure it’s still talking about you, the student, the applicant.

You also want to avoid writing essays about controversial or inappropriate topics. And we think about inappropriate, I mean, we all, you know, like, I don’t want to be ableist, but you know, we have eyes, we have ears, we have, Um, for those of us who are on social media, for those of us who watch the news or read the New York Times or newspapers and et cetera, we see that, um, there are a lot of challenges people are facing across the globe.

Um, and we see how the, you know, the difficult dialogues are people being forced to confront, right? So we have to be mindful that regardless of what you write, and this goes for papers and college and beyond, anything you put out there, you just want to be more mindful of like an audience, right?

Recognizing you don’t technically know who’s on the other side of that desk or that screen. So just making sure you are not saying things that are offensive. You know, to, uh, particular groups of people of particular marginalized identities, et cetera. So just being mindful of that, you know, I often get asked about writing about politics.

You know, I went to college in DC. I worked in DC. That is, you know, politics, right? So there’s times where, of course, it’s appropriate to say, you know, I want to be the president of the United States because, you know, I lived in this particular place and I read about these particular politicians and the change they were able to affect.

Of course, that’s appropriate, right? You just have to be mindful of, you know, about the language you use to describe people, uh, and experiences. You also, uh, a common mistake, and I see this a lot, um, is repetition where it’s like, we’ve all been there. Oh, let me, let me be specific. I know I’ve been there when I’m like, okay, the word I have to write 500 words.

I’m only, I’m on 300 words, 322. And I’m like, how can I get to the 500 words? And the next thing you know, I’m saying the same thing in different words. Like just repeating it over and over and over again. So you just want to be mindful of that. You also want to think about too, you know, For an example, if you write your personal statement about your love for robotic, um, and then you have options for like two supplements, you know, should you spend the supplements writing about robotics again, I would say pick another topic, right?

So, you also don’t want to just like, keep repeating the same information and all across the application, you know, the common app allows for 10 activities, right? So, if you write about one of your personal statement, think about some of the other ones for your other essays, right? Again, I said this earlier, you know, you want to avoid kind of writing essays that, you know, read like a college professor.

Um, you want to also avoid mentioning experiences without describing them. So that’s that show, not tell piece where I want students should show and describe in detail, you know, versus just telling people. Like I was a great swimmer, you know, from sixth grade to 11th grade, I was a great swimmer and swimming taught me a lot of lessons.

Okay, now you need to talk about like, why are you great? What were the lessons? You know, paint a picture, you know, um, just don’t broadly talk about things without just kind of diving in there. Um, you want to avoid, and this is particularly for the college personal statement, the one you send to all the schools, right?

Or all the schools that require them. You know, you should not be saying, I really want to go to Michigan State University and then send that essay to the University of Michigan. First of all, that’s very awkward. Second, you know, you know, it’s not necessary to name the school in the personal statement.

I’ll be mindful of overly using it. The source, I see this a lot. Everyone’s like, look at me, you know, I want to show my Vocabulary, my range, you know, those SAT words, you know, and then I see a lot of words being used in context where it’s not the best word choice or the most appropriate. So you don’t have to be a, a thesaurus, this is not a spell and beat competition.

You know, you just, it’s okay to say, I, you know, if you, if you find yourself using the word demonstrate a lot, you might change it up and use illustrate. I do that a lot in my writing, think about different verbs, et cetera, but you don’t have to go to the thesaurus and find the.

supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, you know, not necessary. You also want to avoid complex sentences that should be written in multiple smaller sentences. I see this a lot and I’m a very verbose, loquacious kind of person in public speaking and writing. So I can, you know, I’ll look at a paragraph and I’m like, there’s semicolons.

Those probably can be separate sentences. So I see students who’s, you know, One sentence is an entire paragraph. It’s like, break that up. You know, it’s hard to read very long, complex sentences. I mean, cause you get to the third line and then you have to start over again. Cause you’re like, what did I just read?

Um, you want to avoid passive voice. Um, you know, just use active verbs to really kind of put yourself in the action. Um, it also saves space for those who are, you know, write a lot and really get to, you know, keep writing and you have to cut down those words. Um, using active voice really helps. And then also you want to avoid using AI and artificial tools such as ChatGPT to write complete essays.

I do specify complete essays because I do think sometimes they can help with outlines. Um, but it’s not great. I’ve read enough ChatGPT essays and for respondents to know when I see it. I actually reviewed an application yesterday for a fellowship and I was talking to the people on the panel. I said, this sounds like ChatGPT wrote it.

So just definitely want to be mindful, um, of that as well.

Stacey: I thank you so much. I know I’ve learned even I’m a former admissions officer myself, and I’ve received a lot of great tips already in the first half of this presentation. So thank you very much. I do want to take a pause here to get a sense of where everybody in the room is in the college application process.

We’re right in the middle. Of that application season, a lot of big deadlines coming up, especially the regular decision deadlines. Um, so some of the seniors in the room, you might. Be almost done. We hope it’s not. Hopefully you’re working on those essays and such. Um, for some of you who are in earlier grades, maybe you’re starting to work on parts of your application materials, but give us a sense of where you are, uh, in the room today.

And I, I loved hearing, um. The tip about, you know, talking about various parts of your applicant profile, given all of the supplements that you have in front of you, this is something students really struggle with. And I don’t think they fully understand, you know, when you’re giving Some schools do, right?

Ask for eight supplements. It’s important to try to think, okay, what have I not said about myself, right? That I can now highlight because I have all of these opportunities as opposed to just that personal statement. Um, and you know, it’s okay to maybe double dip a little bit depending on what the topics are and the questions are.

But it really is such a wonderful opportunity to showcase different parts of yourself, right, when you have so many different essays. Um, what advice would you give to students who are applying and all they have is the personal statement in terms of, you know, choosing that topic, that one thing you’re going to talk about.

Aya: Uh, as in that’s the only essay they have to write.

Stacey: No supplements.

Aya: Yeah, I mean, I, I think first start with the questions. You know, I think the Common App provides seven prompts and, uh, choose your own, um, topic. And I think go through all of those essay prompts and see which one resonates with you. Like, which one jumps out at you.

Um, because you also don’t want to force anything. I find myself, like, I find students kind of forcing it because they like, I think they expect me to write about this question. And I don’t think that’s the best approach. I want you to go through and say, okay, this question asked me about my academic interests and because there’s no supplement for me to talk about why I want to study psychology.

I, I’m dying to tell them why I want to study psychology. So you answer that prompt. So just thinking about what is a natural fit, um, based on the prompts that you have. And then sometimes there’s stories you want to tell about your background, your identity, particular hardships, et cetera. And there may not be a question that fits that.

So you say, okay, there’s no question that actually fits that. So I’m just going to speak from my heart and kind of talk about this particular experience. So I really think, um, going through the prompts. Looking at your activities list. So our activities often, uh, is a manifestation or reflection of our interest and our passions.

So you have, you know, in some cases, some students have 10, sometimes they have more than 10, so they can’t fit them all unless they’re applying to UC. And some students might only have a few because they work a lot or they have to take care of a sibling after school or care for a loved one, et cetera.

But look at those activities list as well, because your activities, the things you spend the most time on, the things you dedicate the most time on, the things you may have spent the most time doing over the past few years, that also is a sign and an indication of things that you’re passionate about and things that you can speak with and speak about confidently.

So I always say, you know, the application. We it’s like a recipe, right? So we already have the ingredients. We’re just trying to bake the cake, right? So look, and I think that’s a great way of, you know, kind of choosing. that topic to kind of lean in for the personal statement.

Stacey: Beautifully put. Yeah, I totally agree.

And I will add to that that, um, I’ve had some students wonder, Oh, should I choose the prompt that nobody else is going to choose? No, pick the prompt that you feel you can most confidently answer. I love that advice. So based on the responses we’re seeing here, it looks like a lot of you are in the middle of researching schools.

Some of you haven’t started on the Application process, which might make sense depending on your grade. Some of you are working on your essays, um, and a few of you are almost done. So congratulations to you all. We are going, yeah, we are going to turn it back over to Aya for the, we’re going to have the presentation, um, before we go on to Aya, take it away.

Aya: Awesome. Thank you. Oh,

Stacey: sorry. There you go.

Aya: All right. So how can you write creatively about yourself while also being clear and concise? We get this a lot too, right? So in thinking about the essay, you’re really going to try to find some balance here. So I feel like I keep reiterating this point, but you want to use those concrete examples that really helps with being clear and concise, being specific, right?

You know, I think sometimes we, we write in a way that makes, uh, that forces the reader to make a lot of assumptions. about who we are and what we’re trying to say. That’s because when we’re writing an essay and especially if you’re working with us in CollegeAdvisor, you’re going to have several drafts.

It’s not just one and done. There’s multiple drafts. I mean, minimum three, but the students I work with, um, again, the essay is my, my, my world. So they are often producing a lot, a lot of drafts, right? Um, but you definitely want to make sure that you’re being specific because I, I also read essays that are saying like, Who is this?

What does this mean? I, what are you talking about here? Because they’re not being specific. They write as if I know who, what, when, where, why, right? So be specific. That really helps. In some cases, you want to limit, and I’m putting a caveat here, in some cases, you want to limit the flowery and abstract language that doesn’t communicate substantive meaning.

So the emphasis here is on the substance, right? So you might detail, I mean, I’m an art collector, so, you know, you could talk about, you could start talking about the blue wall and the painting, and that could have a deeper meaning that we may not find out until later in that intro paragraph, sure. But you don’t want to go down a rabbit hole speaking so abstractly and metaphysically where people are like, huh?

What are you talking about? You know, we want to know what you’re talking about. Okay, and you don’t because of the amount of time admissions officers have, especially as we continue to see, you know, increases in applications at certain institutions. They don’t have, you know, all day to try to put these pieces together and figure out what you’re talking about and what you mean.

So you really want to be clear, say what you mean. Um, you can also, as far as creativity, think about incorporating elements of culture, language, expressions that reflect your experiences. You know, I said earlier when students are like, afraid that they’re not unique enough, I guess. And they’re like, I’m just like, so and so, you know, I live in a cul de sac and here, or I live in this apartment building and everybody goes to this school and dress the same.

Sure, right, there’s trends and, you know, yes, you might be in a space where that’s a little bit more homogenous or people look like you, but there’s still distinct cultural elements, right? Maybe instead of, you know, you know, for Thanksgiving, instead of do turkeys, you know, your family is notorious about, I don’t know, eating duck, but maybe that’s the meat you use.

And that’s a part of a tradition that your family has, right? Or, you know, instead of, you know, going trick or treating on Halloween, your family host a gay night. That’s something specific to you and your family, right? So there’s all types of things that You know, we maintain that allows us to be creative and to think about our worlds, right?

I always like to say, think about those senses. What do you see in your world? What did you, what do you smell in your world? What do you feel in your world? What do you taste, right? Thinking about the senses, and how we can communicate that to our readers. You also, again, you want to, and thinking about being more clear, right?

Try to define less vulnerable terms or expressions. Again, sometimes I see stuff and I’m like, I don’t know what you mean, you know, because I just don’t know. I don’t know you. I don’t live in your world. So just try to define, you know, those things in your essay.

So how do we edit the essay effectively? Um, yeah, that’s an ongoing thing. I even find, You know, I write long form, you know, I’m writing a dissertation, which is basically a book. Um, so I have thousands and thousands of words screaming at me every day. And sometimes it’s hard to read them because my eyes get cross eyed.

It’s a whole thing, but nevertheless, you know, and thinking about tips, right? I always encourage students to use the read aloud feature on Microsoft Word. And now if you don’t have Microsoft suites, I did learn that Google, uh, Google Docs has one of those like plugins you can add. to read it. It’s a great way to kind of pick up things.

Um, and also you can be a little bit more passive. Like you can sit on your couch or in your bed and like let it play and then you can hear something. You’re like, wait a minute, I didn’t mean to say that, you know? Um, so one of the examples I often use is this one where a student can write an essay that says, I enjoy torturing animals.

I have volunteered torturing animals at a local shelter since eighth grade and the experience has solidified my desire to become a veterinarian. Now, I don’t think this student, I will hope not, um, meant to write about their love for torturing animals. That is very cruel and a person would need help. Um, but here we have, if the words are spelled correctly, But the student meant to say training, and because their brain, when they read it, corrected it to training, right?

They didn’t even pick it up that it was saying torturing, right? And that sounds like a dra like an extreme example, but it’s true. Our brains is like, you know what you meant to say, and if no one else takes a look at it, it’s easy to read over it because you’re correcting it to training every single time you read it.

You also want to take time between drafts. This is so important, which means the procrastination needs to subside. Okay, folks, if something is due on January 1st, it should, it should not be December 31st at 10:55 PM. And you’re like frantically typing, right? You need to give your eyes a rest and you need to give time for a teacher or counselor or someone you trust to review the statement.

Okay. Again, schools go on the holiday break for that new year break, you know, so from the 24th to the, I think, uh, Christmas is on a Monday, you know, so that you might get off that Friday and people are not back in session until the first, there might, there might be some debt or to the second mother.

There might be deadlines on the 1st, the 2nd, the 3rd, the 10th, etc. So people need time to take a look at your stuff. So you have to get that, you know, the essay drafts finished as early as possible. I would say try to submit at least two days before the deadline. It just allows you to breathe more easily.

Because when you wait till the last minute, the dog eats the cord, the computer shuts down, the portals crash, which happens every year notoriously. And don’t get me started on the FAFSA, which is going to be opening up later this month as well. So it’s gonna be a lot going on. So you want to get your stuff in early so others can edit it, so you can edit it effectively, okay?

So what are some of the essays that have stood out to me? Um, I get to read so many interesting essays now. I love it. It’s my favorite part of the application. I know people have their strong opinions about whether or not we should just should discontinue the college admissions essay, but I’m a strong believer that it is one of the best parts of the application, or one of my favorite parts of the application.

Um, so I love to see students who reflect, you know, a really important experiences and that really reflect their ambition and growth. It can be personal growth as defined by, you know, something that they failed at and improved or something, you know, I ever read an essay for a student who had aspirations to be a lawyer, but had a speech impediment and was bullied because of it and called names and he worked at it.

Right? And Mike took speech therapy and he talks about now he’s like on the, he’s on this president of the debate team. And he’s like this great debater. And now he, you know, this person is in college at a university in DC and still aspiring to be a lawyer. And they’ve been able to, I don’t know if master’s the correct word, but talks about these challenges and how they grew and it really highlights their tenacity.

And it was just so well written, and I, and I loved it. I also love essays that paint colorful photos of the human experience, and um, I, I, actually, I love that sentence. I’m happy, like, I wrote that. I was like, that sounds great. Um, but what I mean by that is, you know, I have so many students, uh, who have jobs, right?

And they’re not interning with Wells Fargo. They are, um, working as baristas at a local coffee shop or, um, making, you know, sandwiches for Quiznos, working in the drive thru, working in retail, working in Macy’s, you know, just like random, regular jobs that students get, you know, to help save for college or, you know, To put a little extra money for senior expenses, or maybe they’re just really financially savvy and I doubt I respect, um, but those stories, I just kind of talk about the people that they encounter.

Again, I keep talking about the senses, you know, I’m sure working in quiz, no subs, that’s a sub spot for just in case anyone didn’t know that, you know, I’m sure it smells a particular way. You encounter certain type of people in the drive thru window. So just talking about those experiences, I think are always Really, really great.

Um, I also enjoy, which is not reflected here, hearing about family traditions and it’s not, again, they don’t have to be very distinct. Like, you know, um, you know, as a, because of a certain like racial identity or background, it can literally just be a tradition that you have with your family and it’s fun and it’s something you look forward to.

I think those are really beautiful as well. So again, essays that really center the student, the student, their background, their experiences. I really love. Um, so in being about, you know, some final tips again, I really, really want to emphasize the importance of showing and not just telling people in your essays.

Right. So instead of saying, I learned a lot volunteering at the Cleveland animal shelter. Okay, learned a lot. You know, you can try it while feeding the sick puppies with the other shelter volunteers. I learned the importance of teamwork and compassion. Like you’re really, you’re telling me what you learned and you’re telling me how you learned it and through what means, right?

How did you, you know, how did that come about? You just want to share lessons learned, right? I talked about this at length earlier. It’s not just enough to just tell us a story. We all have stories I can tell you about, you know, the dinner I just left, right? You you say thank you for sharing ma’am. Like who cares about the story, you know, it has to be The so what needs to be answered and again Why do we care?

Like, why should I care about this story that you’re telling? You need to be able to communicate that, right? Proofread. Can’t say that enough. You know, use grammarly. Use the read, uh, allow feature. Have a parent or sibling or a teacher or a counselor. I’m using the word or and not and because there is a such thing as having too many cooks in the kitchen.

You get so much advice with so many different people, you get overwhelmed to inundate it. I struggle with that writing my dissertation. I cannot have 25 people telling me, do this, do this. It’s too many people. Okay, so two people you trust, right? Maybe you write that first draft. You share it with someone.

They give you feedback. You edit it for the second draft. You send it to someone. They give you feedback and you edit it, right? But you don’t need to share it with your whole school. Um, and also these are personal stories, right? This is a personal, we’re talking about personal statements and essays that talk about your background, your life and your experiences.

So it might be personal. You don’t share them with everybody, which is perfectly fine. You also want to tell your story, right? About your own experience. Not someone else’s. Okay. There might be essays that ask you to talk about people who inspire you, who motivate you. That’s perfectly fine. But at the end of the day, we want to be able to read the story and say, wow, I really want to meet the, uh, meet the student.

I really want to admit the student, not, I really want to meet grandpa. I really want to admit grandpa. Okay. It’s very important.

Stacey: Excellent. You had me laughing in the background about, you know, I wrote, I wrote, I’m going to have dinner tonight. Okay. Thank you, ma’am. But so what? I love that parallel. Thank you so much.

All right. That is the end of the presentation part of the webinar. I hope you all found this information to be helpful like I did. And remember that you can download the slides from the link in the handouts tab. So now we’re going to move on to the live Q&A. I’ll read through the questions you submit in the Q&A tab, so go ahead and do that if you haven’t already.

I’ll paste them into the public chat so you can see them and then read them out loud so that Aya can answer. As a heads up, if your Q&A tab isn’t letting you submit questions, just double check that you joined the webinar through the custom link in your email. And not from the webinar landing page. So with that, let’s go to our first question.

It looks like the chat is pretty quiet right now. Um, so I’m going to turn over to some pre questions, some pre registration questions, um, that we’ve had prepared here. I, uh, if there is a school, I’m going to ask some questions maybe in relation to other application requirements outside of the essays. If there is a school that is test optional and you aren’t submitting test scores.

How important is the essay in that scenario in comparison to when there is a test score available?

Aya: That’s a fantastic question. So thank you for asking. I think so we think of the application in this way, right? So the application has a lot of components, right? So one of the components is your high school transcript, right?

And that gives the admissions officer a record of achievement across years in several different types of courses, disciplines, rigor, etc. You also have letters of recommendation for the schools that require them. So those are letters and comments about your performance inside, in some cases outside the classroom by people, you know, respected folks in the school who know you, who’ve seen your progress, who’ve taught you, et cetera.

You also have, um, the college personal statement, which is again, as we talked at length about today, provides that qualitative information, allows you to speak directly to the admissions officers. You get to flex your writing skills and you need to talk about things that are important to you. That matters.

And then a fourth component is the test scores, right? Which, uh, adds, um, demonstrates how you performed on an exam on a particular weekend at a particular moment of time. Uh, it may show some areas of strengths, perhaps some areas of, uh, that may need improvement based on your proficiency or performance and certain things, right?

So we think about those four main components. Now we recognize that some schools have interviews and those things, but I’m going to talk about those four. When you remove one of the four components, in this case, that say remove, remove the task force. We no longer have four pieces of data. We have three, right?

So essentially, we have to work, we are now working with the data that we have. So we just have a little less information about how, you know, your performance, uh, in a certain type of math, you know, based on like the math section of the SAT, right? So we just have less data to make the decision. I will say, and I think California is a great example, right?

California, the state, you know, is test blind, right? UCs are test blind, so they don’t look at your test scores at all. But they have four essays or personal insight questions that students write and those weigh a lot, right? Because they’re not looking at those that those test scores. So they have your high school transcripts They have your activities lists and they have those PIQs those personal insight questions So I say said all that to say when you don’t have to test scores They’re going to be looking at that essay because they have less data.

So things, the portion, the weight of what, how things are weighed may shift a little bit. Um, because they’re going to be working with three pieces of data versus four. So, I mean, they are important. The essays are important. Um, and I think, If they did not matter in most cases, I don’t think schools will require them.

I think some of it is part of tradition, but I won’t go down that path, but they are important. And you want to make sure you are doing a good job and that you take them seriously, especially if there are supplements. I mean, colleges. Really some might skim that personal statement, but those supplements where they’re asking you why in certain institutions that matters, right?

Um, so you do want to take it seriously, regardless if you submit test scores or not.

Stacey: Yeah, that’s, that’s really great insight. And I completely agree. The other thing I’ll add too is If academically you have struggled in a particular area, often the test score is a supplemental piece of information that they can use to gauge whether or not you know that one math class was not necessarily reflective of your quantitative ability, for example, if they no longer have your test scores for insight into your academic ability, um, there might be essays where you are talking about your academic ability in certain areas.

So in that way it could supplement. In a different way compared to test scores, but really, that would be, I think, a little more rare when it comes to writing. You don’t usually write about your academic ability as much as you do, um, personal experiences and personal growth. Um, so moving on to the next question, I, can you give me and the rest of the attendees.

a sense of who reads the essays, um, typically, who are the admissions officers who are reading, um, these essays and making these decisions? And do all of those same people review the supplemental questions as they do the personal statement?

Aya: That’s another really great question. Um, I’m going to say a very common answer, but a not favorable answer.

Uh, it depends. So each school is different. So some schools, Um, admissions officers are divided into regional or to region. So they only cover or review essays for a particular region. Um, some, some universities also have admissions officers who, um, who are external readers. So they don’t work full time in the actual admissions office.

They might just hire them seasonally to review applications in the first round to like, filter them. Um, some admissions offices have, you know, uh, admissions officers who read for certain affinity groups. So, like, first generation college students or, you know, students of color, et cetera. So, it varies widely.

Some universities have committees where the first round, an admissions officer might just review the application. And then the committee reads it and they look at the application in more detail. So, um, yeah, it just really depends on the structure of the admissions office. I think the more most common structure is just regional where a particular admissions officer is responsible for particular region, uh, particular states, um, in some cases, particular schools as well.

And that is the person who’s reading the application. Often you have, uh, also a second reader model where the first person might read. Focus on two parts of the application and then the second reader and then is looking in more detail at the essays or the more written parts of the application. So it varies.

Widely by institution by capacity by resources. Um, if it’s a large public university, that’s receiving 40, 000 applications, it’s going to be hard for the admissions officers to read every essay. So there might be some filtering that happens based on the university’s institutional priorities. They also might have external readers who might do some of the filtering for them.

So, um, Stacey, I want to make sure I’m answering the question, uh, if you can remind me what the question was.

Stacey: Yeah, and I think you did answer the question. So my question generally was, who are reading the essays? Who are the people reading the essays? And, you know, they are typically admissions officers from what I’m gathering from your summary.

Um, it could be, combination of one, two, maybe even three, four, five readers. It just depends on the structure and the procedures associated with that admissions committee. Um, and then again, like you said, if there are limited resources, limited capacity, the amount to which that each reader is reviewing a particular application or what parts they’re reading might vary as well.

Did I summarize that well? Okay. Um, and yeah, I think that’s usually one of the more daunting for, uh, parts of the application process is not knowing who is on the other end of your application, right? Um, and what I will add to that is they are normal people. They are, they are me. Um, they are people just like you.

Um, and they are rooting for you when they open your application. They want to. Admit you. They want to have, you know, a lot of great applications, a lot of great candidates. And so, um, you know, your challenge is to put all of that wonderful information about yourself in such a format and a digestible way that it’s clear why you want to come to the school and why you want to study what you want to study.

And it’s clear to the admissions officer who you are. Um, We did get a couple of live questions. Um, are scholarship essays judged more than an admissions essay if a scholarship essay is required of an institution? Um, I would, you know, rephrase a little bit and maybe instead ask, are scholarship essays reviewed, related to our last question, by the same people reviewing the admissions essays?

Aya: Yeah, that also depends because, um, it depends on the school’s admissions policy too, right? Because if a school is need blind, uh, what that means is they admit students, uh, regardless of their ability to pay. The admissions office also might be looking at, um, the scholarship essays or it can just be the role of the financial aid office.

Um, so it, it really depends. I mean, I think scholarships often are, um, kind of secondary. And what I mean by that is. Your admissibility is often those main parts of the application, which includes, as I said earlier, you know, your grades, your test scores, your letters of recommendation, those essays, your activities list.

I think the scholarships often come later, you know, whether it’s the offer of the scholarships or the invitation to apply to the scholarships. Or, um, the evaluation, like first they, they need to find you admissible, which means that meaning like they find you someone they want to admit. Then the, the asset, the, I’m sorry.

Then the scholarship piece becomes secondary. So I think the prioritize the, uh, the priority is still the. The essay, the admissions essay. I’m sorry. The personal statement.

Stacey: Yeah, that makes sense. I am going to take a moment. Um, to talk about an opportunity of a CollegeAdvisor before we continue with the Q and a CollegeAdvisors team of over 300 former admissions officers and admissions experts are.

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And during that meeting, we’ll review your current extracurricular list and application strategy. Discuss how those align with your college list and outline, excuse me, the tools you need to stand out in a competitive admissions world. And that QR code is going to stay on the next slide as we wrap up with a few more Q&A questions.

So there is one in the chat right now. I am going to read that out loud. Um, as English is not my native language, I occasionally depend on chatGPT to correct, revise, and even translate. Is that acceptable? Or is it easily noticeable? What I know you talked about this a little bit earlier in the presentation I had.

Could you give some insight on that question? Oh, you’re on mute. Sorry.

Aya: Yeah, there are 2 questions being asked there. The 1st question is asking. Can you tell? And the 2nd is asking, like, is it appropriate? Um, I mean, from my experience, and I’ve actually worked with some students, um, who English was not their 1st language. Um, and I can tell, I can tell what I’m reading. I say, that’s been translated personally, but I’ve also read thousands and thousands of applications over the years.

So I can tell. Um, now whether or not being able to tell that. It’s that’s a different question than whether or not it’s appropriate or permissible. I think increasingly we’re going to see more of that. That’s it is a more cheaper or accessible way for folks who are not native English speakers to have some additional support to make sure that they’re using words correctly and Etc.

I don’t think it’s. impermissible, I don’t necessarily think it’s inappropriate. Um, but I do think, um, the overuse of that resource might have kind of complications or, uh, down the line as universities think about whether or not they’re going to allow students to use those resources, um, for assignments and et cetera.

So again, I’ll say this, I can tell, um, I’m sure some of my colleagues can tell, not everyone, of course. Um, there’s a certain cadence. And style that chat GPT uses. They often give examples of threes. Um, I’ve noticed is a power of that. I picked up. Um, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily, uh, if it will be viewed unfavorably across the admission gamut or whether or not that would be like a negative.

Um, but I do think that’s something increasingly, uh, admissions officers are wanting to think about because students are going to use it. They are doing it. I, again, I see them in person. I can just tell. Frankly, I don’t know, Stacey, if you’ve been able to tell what students are over, um, kind of over reliant on chat, and other types of artificial tool, writing tools, um, but at this time, I don’t think it is, uh, I haven’t heard from my colleagues that a student using it, particularly those who English is not the second, uh, their first language.

using it to help, um, with some of the, the language in the, in the writing and the essay. I haven’t seen that it’s completely considered 100 percent don’t use it, but if chat PPT is fully writing your essays, it’s complete. If you’re writing, uh, you know, using it to write complete essays, supplement essays, personal statements, that is a problem.

It’s not a problem simply of these are not your words. Um, The ChatGPT does not produce really the lack of specificity. The lack of that human part is often missing and also it’s an issue of integrity, um, where, you know, there is a honor code, um, that you will sign and a pledge you will take, um, to be, to have integrity.

Um, and I think that’s important as well. So I know there was a lot to that question. I mean, I think it’s a really great question and it’s something that us folks in the admission space are going to have to really think more seriously

Stacey: Yeah, and I think to, you know, to add to that, and that was such a great comprehensive answer to, I know that you were asking if I could tell, uh, if ChatGPT is used to write an essay, even before ChatGPT was used, it was very obvious when an essay was not appropriately written or So written by the author of the application, the true author of the application.

And there are little tells throughout an application that, um, tell admissions officer, okay, this is their actual voice. And that’s not the voice I’m reading in this essay. Um, you have to also be careful about schools that will have an interview component, because if You know, your oral skills don’t are similar to your written skills, and those don’t match.

It’s going to create, uh, an interview that is not in alignment with your application. And so there are a lot of layers to this answer. Um, but I do, I do think I hit the nail on the head with. the overall considerations when using that tool. Um, so great question, great response. Um, pivoting to a little bit of a different topic here.

For those who want to talk, I know you talked about, you know, discussing maybe some of your activities in your essays. How do you show off your accomplishments in your essays? While still appearing humble.

Aya: Well, I mean, I think, I don’t know, I feel like I’ve never read an essay and I was like, this, mm, okay. Well, there’s some arrogance sometimes says Jump Out, but I mean, they don’t, we don’t, admissions officers don’t know what you don’t tell them. So I think it’s really important for you to talk about what you’ve accomplished, because how else would they know it?

You know, there’s a, there’s a difference between saying like, I accomplished these things, you know, I got this award, you know, I’ve been student class president for the past four years and therefore I was able to make these changes. There’s a way to talk about that than saying like, I’m the smartest person on the planet that ever existed and I have the, You know, the highest GPA you ever come to the best student.

You don’t admit me. It will be a terrible decision, you know, so I will say talk about your experiences. Talk about them. Probably. I think that’s important. And you deserve to be able to have that space and opportunity. I think, um, I don’t see it as often. Whereas it sounds like complete arrogance. Um, I actually don’t see that as much.

And that often comes out and like, interviews and things, but I think it’s important for students to be able to Speak confidently and boldly about things that they’ve accomplished because it’s incredibly important. And when we think about the role of the admissions process to be able to make decisions about who has the ability to perform at the institution, we need to be able to see that you can excel and have excel and have a proven record of excellent.

So I will worry less about that and also get other people to read it and ask them, how does this sound? Does this sound arrogant, you know, as a hubris here or. Do I sound like I’m just confidently talking about the things that I’ve encountered, endured, overcame, and achieved, um, during my time in high school?

Stacey: Amazing. Yes. Thank you so much. That is all we have time for in terms of the Q and A. Thank you so much everyone for joining us and thank you to Aya for an amazing presentation and Q and A session. If you all would like to join us for some future webinars, here is our description. December webinar calendar.

There’s some really great sessions coming up this month. Um, and so hopefully you’re able to join us for those. Have a great morning, afternoon, night, wherever you are. And thank you all again.

Aya: Thank you.