Crafting Your Personal Brand for College Applications
Get the inside scoop on how to craft and strengthen your personal brand to standout during the college application process. Former Admissions Officer Ferrell Armstrong will share his insider knowledge for college admissions success during this 60-minute webinar and Q&A session. Come ready to learn and bring your questions!
2022-08-30- Crafting Your Personal Brand for College Applications
Hi everyone. My name is Juliana Furigay, and I’m your webinar moderator today. Welcome to Crafting Your Personal Brand for College Applications. So to orient everyone with the webinar timing, we’re going to start off with a presentation, then answer your questions in a live Q&A. On the slide bar, you can download our slides and you can also start submitting questions right now in the Q&A tab.
Now let’s meet our panel.
Good evening everyone. My name is Ferrell Armstrong. I am a former admissions officer, uh, from both, uh, Vanderbilt University. And before that, the University of Georgia. While at Vanderbilt, I was one of the heads of International Admissions. And I was also one of the five voting members of Vanderbilt’s Admissions committee, uh, which made may be one of only five people that got to vote, um, who was accepted to the 14th ranked school in the country.
Very excited to be with you this evening. Look forward to kind of going through what you can be doing to create a brain for yourself in the review process, so that you really do stand out and pop to these different admissions.
Great. Thanks for the great intro there. Ferrell. Um, first off, we’re going to start off with a poll for our attendees tonight. Uh, so just wondering what grade is everyone in? Um, and while we wait for those poll results to come in, I would love to ask you Ferrell, you know, why did you decide to go into the field of education and college advising?
And, you know, what’s the most fulfilling thing for you about it? Uh, you know, I was not ready to graduate college. Let me start by saying that I, uh, I really just enjoyed the university space. Um, I enjoyed the community around it. Um, and I was also passionate about bringing awareness to this process in and of itself.
I, I actually did not have a good application process. I went to a great public school, but did not even know that I should be submitting my applications. And it was like beginning to middle of October when I first found that out of my senior. And that led to me not having, you know, the enjoyable and exciting senior year that I think students deserve.
Uh, and so that’s kind of what led me into jumping in and getting started with it. And once I got in, I I’ve never transitioned. I’ve been in college admissions, my entire career now almost, almost in my 14th year, which is kind of scary to admit. That’s a great journey. Thanks for sharing that. Um, and the poll results are now in looks like 15% or in 10th grade, 33% in 11th grade and 50% are in their senior year.
Uh, so we have mostly upperclassmen here tonight. Um, so closing out that poll and sending it back to you. Awesome. Well, I, I think the, the proper way to start off this conversation is to understand what a brand really is. Uh, a brand by business definition is an idea or an image of someone or something. Um, what I like to try to get students and families to recognize is that a brand really is the entire purpose of your application.
Uh, your application is, is simply. Medium. If you will, uh, to convey said brand to these admissions offices at the schools that you’re applying to in this case, your brand is, is what you’re in pursuit of, right? What, what you’re passionate about, what you’re targeting to get outta your life and, and frankly, what you’re willing to do to get there and to kind of top it all off, you need to make us understand what you’re trying to go do with that, right?
What you want outta life and what you do with it are in fact, two separate things. So being able to convey that to these admissions, really create a significant difference for you in this process. And, and the reason it does so is because it truly tells us why you’re wanting to come to our institution.
Most students today, in fact, almost 80% fail to establish a clear reason or a why behind why they are applying to a particular school. Many students today think that if we use the example of biology, They say, I’m applying to Vanderbilt. I’m applying to NYU, I’m applying to Duke for biology, many students and families think that that explains why you’re applying to a school.
Well, I’m sorry to tell you that that is not the case. All you’ve done is just repeated the major that you’re gonna be pursuing that doesn’t tell us why you wanna be at our institution, but if you can utilize your application, connecting your essays and your activity, descriptions, your letters of recommendation.
All the way to your course selection through your activities. I’m sorry through your, uh, transcript, if you can use the application to tie all that together and get us to understand where you’re trying to go with that biology interest in nine or 10 years from now, what you’re wanting to do with it specifically, that really defines what you’re in pursuit of.
And it truly tells us why perhaps you’re charging, excuse me, um, selecting our particular biology program because of the unique resources that might only exist here at this institution. In comparison to another school that you might be looking at. And it’s the resources that exist at my school that are probably the best fit to get you down this pathway that you’re envisioning for yourself.
If you can convey that to us, now we understand why you’re applying to our school. And because so few students are getting this right, the students that do truly do give themselves a significant edge in the review process, because it’s giving us the confidence that you’re truly in pursuit of what you’re saying you are.
Most students are. So I, I think how you go about doing this is extremely important, and I’m gonna try to slow down here and be as detailed as possible in this process, because I, I, I don’t think enough families are, are doing this properly. Uh, and to be clear, I don’t think enough families are giving themselves enough time.
And, and time is something that we will talk about a little bit later at tonight. Um, but for me, developing a brand is about starting to understand who you are and what you’re in pursuit of. The very first thing that I’m going to address is probably the very first question that we might get this evening, which is how is my son or daughter supposed to know what they want to do?
They’re only 15 or 16 or 17. Listen, I, I hear you. I, I, I totally understand that question, but what I want to respectfully get back to you is it is those students that have a more definitive idea of what they’re in pursuit of that performed better in this pathway. When you are applying to us based schools, you are applying against people from all across the.
These schools are global brands today. No, no pun intended there. Since we’re talking about brand, I just realized that, uh, but these schools are global brands that have a, a lot of following. And in order for you to stand out in the acceptance process for a school like Stanford, UCLA, uh, University of Texas, Michigan, right?
Vanderbilt. You really do make yourself that more unique applicant by having a definitive pathway. So one of the easiest ways to start doing this is by cultivating relationships, developing relationships with people around you, not simply your teachers, but coaches, right. Getting involved with perhaps mentors.
Maybe getting involved with, you know, friends or family members, um, of your parents, right? As a mom or a dad, you might have colleagues that have a certain kind of expertise in a field that your son or daughter might be interested in exploring getting your children introduced to these individuals at the earliest stages in their high school career possible provides them with more time to start exploring multiple different avenue.
And so it’s these relationships that you can later rely on, uh, because you see at the bottom of the slide, we, we talk about internships and relation and research opportunities. Well, it’s many times these relationships that you start to build from the earliest stages of your high school career that allow you to find those internships that allow you to find those shadowing and research opportunities.
But I’ll talk more about why those are so influential here in. Being influenced by someone in a particular field is quite helpful. And, and I think getting exposed to some areas that perhaps you might not have normally thought about looking into is, is quite important. Um, so being forced to try something that you may not have wanted to do can actually work out to, to your benefit.
Um, we joke about having a white belt mentality. White belt mentality really comes from the martial arts. Uh, I, myself practice Brazilian jujitsu. And to me, having a white belt mentality means that we’re always open to learn new things, new techniques that can make us better. Well, by getting a student to take that same approach to exploration of particular activities, um, or particular career in academic fields, allows them to explore something or find something I should say, through exploration that they might love and enjoy.
Uh, and one time I had a very, I think rude comment come from somebody that said, well, if I do that, then all that I’m really probably likely to do is just help my student decide what they don’t wanna do. Well, that’s great. Isn’t it? Because now you’ve crossed a bunch of things off the list. They’re no longer gonna waste their time on.
Right. So. That is time well spent. And the more things that you start to cross off that you don’t wanna do, it’s gonna now start really limiting it down to a few options that you have left, which is a good thing. So the more time that you can spend exploring different fields of venture at an early age, the better, um, now how, how do you go about doing this?
Well, Jump in a club that you have had had a friend talking about to you that maybe beat your interest just a little bit, go explore it. You don’t have to stick with it for four years, but go explore that club. Uh, maybe volunteer at, you know, through your local community, you know, at your local community.
If you’re doing things like. Food distribution or local cleanups, you’re gonna meet, interact with other community members that could then turn into influencers later on in life. Again, opening up more relationships that then you can go and ask for an opportunity for later on. And obviously these opportunities I’m referring to things like shadowing, internships, research.
Why do these matter? Well, the reality here is that schools today are looking for demonstrated. I’m sure many of you have have been told that you need to be well rounded. And I know that using air quotes is probably a thing of the nineties and not, uh, uh, not at this day and age, I’m getting old since I turned 35 tomorrow.
Um, but I will tell you that demonstrated experience is what makes me more likely to admit you to my school because it brings instant value and proof that you’re serious about what you’re in pursuit of now, why does this matter? Well, there are three common types of applicants to college today. Okay. The first is an undecided applicant.
It’s not that it’s wrong to be undecided. It’s just that sometimes being undecided can, comes with, can come with a degree of hesitancy on the side of the admissions office, because in, in certain admissions office’s eyes, if you don’t really know what you want to do, maybe perhaps you don’t really know if we’re the right place for you to begin with.
So sometimes that a, you know, undecided applicant can maybe be. Put to the side temporarily not be the primary focus, your second, most common type of applicant. And technically, uh, the most commonly applied to major or psychology. Now there’s nothing wrong with the field of psychology, but 65% of those initial applicants are changing the major.
I’m not saying that to scare you away from psychology. I’m saying that. So you understand that a lot of psychology applicants are then viewed with even more hesitation as an admissions officer. If I’m seeing one applicant type change their major so frequently, I’m a little bit hesitant to believe that if they’re really.
Truly in pursuit of what they’re talking about. I’m sorry, what they’re talking about, what they’re applying for. And so to that degree, when I can see historical proof that you’re serious about what you’re applying for, it is instant value add to your application. And it’s a massive level change because now instead of looking at somebody and going, Hey, is this what he or she really is coming here for?
Are they gonna like change a major? I can look at an applicant with 3, 4, 5 things that they’ve done over their high school career and go, wow. Like he, or she’s extremely serious about. There’s no doubt in my mind at this point that they’re coming here to pursue what they’ve applied for. That makes me feel more confident because when I could admit someone that historical proof, I, I feel a lot less likely that they might transfer and lead to school.
My job is to maintain enrollment, not constantly be filling slots. So by doing things like internships and research opportunities. You’re providing yourself contextual proof that these schools cannot argue with. Um, you also provide yourself with strong letters of recommendation later on. Now there’s a difference between internship and, and shadowing internships.
Uh, in many cases are a paid position. And in one thing that I try to remind a lot of families of is to never lead an email or a conversation by asking for an internship, ask for a shadowing opportunity. You would be amazed at the reverse psychology that that does for you. Um, you, you say internship, uh, especially like legal interest cuz I was a political science and, and a pre-law student.
Uh, a lot of times the law firm will say, oh, Hey, we don’t, we don’t do that here for high school students, the moment you call it a shadowing experience, it’s we love high school students. We’d love to have you come look around and kind of follow some of our team members around for a day or two. So understand that, how you present it very much can influence the actual opportunity that you.
A shadowing experience. An internship are practically the same thing. In most cases, one require one involves a paycheck. The other does not now research. Why, why is research so important? Well, in any field research truly does show probably the highest level of significant interest that you can have, uh, because you’re really taking a significant portion of your.
To invest in an idea and explore it. What I will tell you though, is that as we go on in the select, in, in the selection process each year passes, the stem field specifically is becoming so populated with applicants that you almost need research to really set you aside. Um, if we wanna talk about the medical pathway.
I think the big one that requires research that people aren’t thinking about. If you are interested in going into a BSMD program or other words, a direct medical program research is really the, the level changer, right? It’s the one that makes you more significant, uh, the most everybody else, because most people aren’t dedicating the time that it takes to go get involved in the lab somewhere.
Now in saying that I should be cautious because research does not just require you to be in a. You can do self-led research at home, you can, um, but being willing to dedicate that level of time to something so specific, no one can really argue with if you’re serious about that pursuit or not. Let’s see.
Great. And now we’re at our second pool. Um, so just wondering for audience here, where are you in the application process? Um, and since the theme of the night is personal branding for college applications, uh, would love to ask you far, what would you describe your personal brand as loud? Um, just, um, I think for me, I would say that I’m.
A social lubricator. Uh, what I mean by that is I I’m a social person that tries to lubricate, perhaps the, um, constant relationship changes between the educational sphere and the general public. Um, I, I think there is to some degree, a lot of differences that, um, families have in terms of their opinions of what the process is versus what the actual process is from the admissions perspective.
So I, I kind of view myself as being an educational. You know, social lubricator, trying to bring both parties together and becoming more informed on all fronts to try to smooth this process out. I like that. Thanks for sharing. Um, so the poll results are now in looks like 4% haven’t started yet. 46% are researching schools.
28% are working on their. and 21% are getting their application materials together. Um, so it looks like those people are kind of in those later stages in the college application process, uh, closing out the poll now and sending it back to you. So I think some other things to focus on here are ongoing development opportunities.
Um, I, I think one of the things that I hear the most about today in the review process is leadership. To be clear here. Leadership comes in, in multiple areas in multiple platforms. I, I do personally think that a lot of people put this idea that leadership only comes in in the format of a title. I think that’s an improper way of looking at this just because you are a secretary or a vice president or a president of a, a school club.
Does that really make you a leader or did you win a popularity contest? So in many cases it is a leader for sure. Um, but leadership is by demonstration. It’s not just be by being elected to something. Um, so. Leadership, what I’m trying to illustrate here is that it can come from multiple different areas and multiple different, uh, pathways.
Um, sure. Being a vice president, being a, a founder of an organization, president of a club certainly is leadership. If you’re actually taking the steps to, to lead that organization, you know, further, um, now. Other formats of leadership come in the format of, you know, social involvement, right? Are you invested in your local community?
Are you going to, you know, help park cleanups? Are you going to bring awareness perhaps to, you know, maybe something that’s happening in your community that you wanna, you know, try to change. Maybe they’re trying to, you know, change a park into a. A set of town homes like they locally tried to do here recently.
Um, that’s leadership getting out there and bringing awareness to something, uh, is the same amount of leadership as being the president of an organization. But what I wanna remind you of is that it really comes down to how you kind of represent, uh, represent this in your application process. And, and I’ll speak to that here in just a second.
Uh, I, I think the other thing that needs to be focused on here is the significance of passion projects, uh, passion project. It’s been a very hot term for quite some time now. And I don’t think families really understand the significance of them. Uh, if I’m being totally honest. Um, more importantly, I don’t think families understand how easily attainable they really are.
Um, and so I’m gonna spend a few minutes here trying to be as clear about this as possible. When a student is saying that they want to do something specifically, right. That they wanna pursue a certain field to me. And in many cases, I would always award a student more points in the review process. When I would see them create something of their own idea that they would then distribute to other people, to make them more aware of something that’s a passion project.
And I would share that, or excuse me, I, I would award that student more points because that kind of commitment takes a significant amount of time between developing an idea, you know, developing a plan to get it off the ground, operationalizing that plan, and then distributing it to others. That takes a lot of time and, and, and a lot of genuine care and interest to make something like that take place.
That’s a lot more time, much more of a time commitment than say, let’s go join national honor. Now to be clear before I get in trouble here, I’m not saying anything negative about national honor society. It’s a wonderful organization. What I’m trying to illustrate here by the random use of that organization’s name is how invested are you in that organization or that club or that team?
Are you playing? Are, are you contributing to the growth of that club? Are you actually doing something in the host of program that really relates to your medical pathway? Or are you just a member that goes to a meeting every couple of weeks? Just to put it on your resume? There’s a significance difference there in terms of how that comes off in the review process, passion project, that’s pretty difficult to make it look like you’re just sitting there.
Passion projects take a lot of work. Um, and to me, something that I certainly appreciated was when I could see a student that was academically just crushing it and still finding in, in a rigorous curriculum, I should say, and still finding the time to build a passion project. Um, Make it successful. It’s incredible.
Now, what is a passion project? Well, I, I think a lot of times people think that these have to be incredibly difficult, incredibly time consuming, uh, and, and they necessarily, they don’t have to be, I’ll give you two examples. Uh, my first example, Is a rather large example. So I was working with a student in Dubai when I previously lived there.
And this young man had interest in the finance world due to the regulations in the United Arab Emirates. You cannot do any type of an internship or shadowing experience until the age of 18. So it was very difficult for him to start getting any type of experience in his financial field. Uh, yet that’s what he wanted to apply to NYU Stern, Wharton school business at Penn and several other business schools.
Knowing those schools and the level of that experience that they would be expecting. We had to come up with a plan to address the fact that he did not have any connection to his financial interest. So we sat down together and, and I said, what do you wanna do? He goes, well, I really wanna help people learn how to, you know, how they can better invest their money and make it grow.
I truly enjoy that. But then he said, but I also trying to help giving, I enjoy giving opportunities to others that may not normally find it elsewhere. And I said, you need to start. Micro-financing firm. And he goes, what’s that well for those of you that may not be aware, a micro-financing firm is where someone essentially raises funds by investors and, and invests those funds, um, with entrepreneurs typically in, in developing countries.
So this student, we sat down in over three days, uh, meetings, back and forth. We developed a business plan that allocated the time. And steps necessary for him to source investors to create an actual LLC that was gonna be registered back in his home state of Florida and then source inve uh, source people that he could invest in, in different countries.
And he would provide the micro loans of which he would get a small return on the investment for over a six, 12 or 18 month period. So after he wrote that business plan with my kind of guidance sitting there with him, he starts to operationalize it in over a nine month period. He sourced, I think it was like $350,000 from investors.
And he invested that primarily in Ghana and freshwater, well drilling operations that were owned by locals in that area that he was investing in, not by third party organizations that were going into that country. Um, so it was a very unique opportunity because he was able to provide a loan to somebody that would not have been able to source it else.
Allows them to start a business that then benefits their, their local region, but also allows them to have an income for their family. And then he’s also able to help facilitate a, a minor amount of financial growth for his investors. Now that’s a, that’s a pretty big passion project. Um, he later used his business plan, uh, to be kind of the source for what got him into Wharton school of business.
So he’s at pin right now. A, another example of this, uh, would be something as simple as a student that I worked. Uh, right at the beginning of the pandemic, um, he was trying to do, um, internships, shadowing experiences, uh, in medical. Um, uh, what am I trying to say? Not operations, but medical facilities, but due to the lockdown, he was not able to.
So we sat down and tried to determine a way that he could become involved, um, remotely in the medical field. And this was really before, you know, people started doing, you know, remote shadowing and we determined that he should use social media to demonstrate his passion for the orthopedics. So he’d actually torn his elbow, playing baseball.
And it had it reconstructed. I, I believe the surgery’s called like Tommy John surgery. Um, and he took the exercises that he was given by his physical therapist and he was able to start developing a following on Instagram and TikTok and he would just film little 32nd to a minute videos. Going through rehabilitative exercises and also rehabilitative exercises to gr uh, excuse me, to grow awareness for elbow injuries in baseball and tennis, and that distributed out to, I think it was like 4,000 followers by the time he was done with, um, by the time he applied the school.
Now he’s at Southern California. Now that’s a, a very unique approach, but that’s a passion project. And while it may not seem as significant. Um, to, you know, the first example that I gave you, it still had a significant benefit and he was able to do it with a single device that almost every single one of us now owned.
Um, so passion projects can be to the extreme passion projects can also be at the very basic level and still have the utmost success. Um, so don’t, don’t think that this has to be something that takes all of your time. It, it really doesn’t have to. Now the idea behind this is obviously distributing your passion and, and I.
One way to do this through other formats is to make yourself available to others. Right. Are you willing to kind of, you know, coach someone up or are you willing to coach up maybe a seventh or an eighth grader that might have interest in. Maybe you, you know, have had access to coding classes and, but you’re in an area that perhaps most students wouldn’t have that opportunity.
Well, why don’t you go dedicate some of your time to teaching some free coding classes, uh, to students that may not have that access. That’s called mentorship. Uh, in many cases that’s also considered servant, uh, servant leadership, another great way to demonstrate your interest and to really create a, a brain for yourself is to develop a following on social media.
Right? I’ve had students that have developed their own podcast. Um, and in many cases, students that have their own podcasts will both film it and record it. So they’ll distribute that material through, uh, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok on film, and then they also put that material out through other podcasting sources like apple, um, apple podcast and Spotify.
Um, these are great ways for you to distribute. This area of interest that you have. Um, and if you create a following or not, that’s not the point. The point is that you’re trying to distribute and grow a recognition for something that you share interest in. So that’s how you can really start to grow your personal brand.
Now, the biggest mistake that I see families making and for your seniors that are with us this evening, this may scare you. Um, But time I is the biggest mistake that families make. They’re not giving themselves enough time in this process. Time is your greatest asset in life. Um, you know, my father unfortunately is no longer with us.
Um, he had me at a much later stage in his life. So I always knew that my time with him was limited and, and he tried to make every opportunity to spend time with me as possible. So I’ve always appreciated time. It’s something that’s very significant. Well, I look at this process very differently than most people in the missions field do.
Uh, I think a lot of people are told to start this process midpoint of junior year and all will be fine. I, I respectfully disagree. I think you should start this process as soon as possible if you know, a hundred percent or 85%, that you’re very serious about something. Start to explore. Freshman year, sophomore year, if you can start a passion project in awesome, the sooner that you can get your school list in place, the quicker that you can start to tailor all the other remaining aspects of your activity, selection, your academic course selection to the eventual schools that you wish to apply to.
And so by starting earlier, this then allows you to start eventually getting to your essays. When you’re able to start your essays. Well, before the summertime at of 11th grade, now you’re able to take breaks in between these essays so that you’re not having 30, 40 essays, 50 essays stack on top of you over a short eight week period called summertime leading into your senior year.
So the more time that you give yourself the better off you’re gonna be, because your work is gonna be more effective because you’re gonna have it taken the time to have made it. Well, I should say, you know, it’s. Thought out better, right? It it’s more developed. It’s more robust, it’s more detailed. That’s what conveys this better idea of who you are, which again is the whole idea of your application to provide this idea or image of who you are to these schools.
That’s a brand. The one thing I do wanna share with you, and it’s the thing that I get fired up with the most is. The rumor mill, I, I think way too many people today, listen to what their friends, tell them what their, you know, colleagues tell them their, their own family members tell them without really looking into it.
And, and I think that’s a, a huge mistake, you know, in, in the last 13 or so years that I’ve been doing this, uh, there have been three major paradigm shifts in terms of how schools are processing applications. The most recent being the, the global pandemic during the lockdown. So a lot of people today, Are still, you know, trying to approach this process, perhaps when they, from when, when they went to college about 20 something years ago as parents.
Well, I’m respectfully here to tell you that GPA and test score are not what gets you into college anymore. That determines if we even look at your application, it’s what you start doing. And it’s what you share about what you’re gonna do through your essays, your activity, descriptions, your letters of recommendation.
That’s why we’re going to admit you to a school. By learning what the real process looks like now, in terms of how selectivity works by learning how you should actually apply to a school, not just trusting that early action is always better in comparison to regular decision. Maybe regular decision is a better plan of action for you.
A school learning the differences on a school by school basis, and truly becoming familiar with what this process is actually taking into account currently versus even five years ago. That is how you’re gonna create a difference for yourself in this process with this being as confusing as it. It’s always beneficial to get help.
There’s never an argument against doing that, but most importantly, you need to be doing it with certified individuals that have legitimate experience working at these schools. Personally, I think college is probably the second or third largest decision of your life. Right. And with that being. That big of a deal.
It’s not worth risking it in my opinion, right? This is gonna influence in most cases what you do for the remainder of your life. And it’s, what’s gonna bring you ideally a lot of joy, right? I don’t stress out when I, I log into work every day when I travel for work, I, I don’t feel like I work, cuz I love what I do.
That can be a very real possibility for you. But I want you to start to find that out now so that you don’t end up in the wrong pathway later on, but the right way to do it is by understanding what you’re getting yourself into and not leading yourself down a pathway that is filled with the wrong direction.
So getting help truly matters. And when you think about it, Almost 50% of all applicants today are getting third party assistance. The exact number is 48%. So 48% of all students in the application process today are hiring third party services to guide them in this process. You know, here at college advisor, we have well over 350 advisors at this at point in time that are ready and able to sit down and assist your family in this process from the earliest stages of eighth and ninth.
All the way through, if you’re a senior, we’re ready to help you put a plan in place, develop a, an academic path for you. And as well as, um, a schedule, if you will, to slowly walk you through this process. So it never becomes overwhelming. You know, the goal here is that this does not stress you out. This process does not have to be frustrating.
This can actually be an enjoyable process where you learn a lot about yourself and, and I would highly encourage you to try to make it, you know, something that you do as a family, not something that you do independently of one. Because the more that you do it as a family, I think you’re gonna come to a much more successful conclusion and everyone’s gonna be a lot happier in the process.
So if there’s anything that we can do for you, we would love to set up a time and speak with you and, um, I’ll leave it at that.
Alrighty, thank you so much for all of that information. I’m sure audience found it to be super helpful. Um, that brings us to the end of the presentation part of the webinar. Um, remember audience that you can download the slides from the link in the handouts tab. Um, and right now we’re going to move on to the live Q&A section.
So I’m just gonna read through the questions that you submitted in the Q&A tab. Um, and some of you already submitted questions while registering, so I can start with those as well. And as a reminder here, if your Q&A tab, isn’t allowing you to submit questions, just double check that you join the webinar through the custom link in your email and not from the webinar landing page.
Um, so the first question we have here is about, um, whether your personal brand it’s better to have it be more simple or more complex, for example, should you be able to summarize your personal brand into one word? Um, for example, the pianist or, you know, if you play a certain sport, um, just that’s the question.
Yeah. I mean, I, I don’t think it has to be as symbol as one word and, and respectfully I was a recruited college athlete and it should, your brain should not be related to your. Your sport ends at one point in life, you’re going to college for a future and a pathway of education. Um, at some point that sport is gonna end.
It’s not something that’s gonna carry you on until you’re 80 and 90. Um, so I would not make your brain about your sport. Um, to that end, you know, I, I would say, you know, this doesn’t have to be a one or a two word thing. It can. You know, an idea could be a couple of sentences that really define who you are.
Um, this does not have to be some instantaneous piece. They just have to have a better idea, the person that you’re gonna be within their community and what you’re gonna try to build while you’re a member of that community. Uh, so you know, something that I recently kind of came across when working with a student, um, I, I realized that the student was really gonna be, she was a social entrepreneur.
If you wanted me to kind of put it into two short words, In reality, what she is, she’s a facilitator of conversation in, in developing communities, right? She’s someone that’s gonna go out and, and bring communities together that perhaps normally would not have interacted and, and find common, you know?
Interest and common trust to build communities. She’s a community builder and that’s what schools are looking for. Right. Schools are looking for someone that’s gonna come in and be growing, you know, the communities internally within a school, um, to make sure that that foundation is always there to support people of, of all ages and all backgrounds, um, to make it a, a nice, warm and welcoming environment for all that join.
So. That’s her particular brand, if you will. That’s also what she wanted to go and do. She wanted to kind of go into, um, the social support realm in the future and help families, um, do going through certain situations. Um, so I, I think it, it doesn’t have to be one worded. Sometimes it takes a little bit more of a description to get a school, to understand it.
It doesn’t have to be so instant, uh, but you still have to make sure that that’s becoming clear throughout your.
Great. Um, and on that note, should a students’ personal brand be more academic focus and in line with their perspective, major mm-hmm or should it be more focused on their personality and hobbies outside of school, et cetera, or a mixture of both. It, I would default to being more related to academics and, and what you’re in pursuit of.
Um, look, your hobbies are great. Um, and, and that’s fine. That may be related to what you wanna pursue in school. Awesome. Cool. Um, Even better, if it can be a blend of the two, that’s probably the best. But if it’s just your hobbies, if it’s just a, you know, like if I was just a, you know, a martial artist that no, I’m not coming to college to be a martial artist.
Right. Um, if I was just a political scientist, well, no political science was my undergraduate major, but it was a platform and a pathway to get to something else. Right. It, it’s kind of a blend of both. If, if we’re. Totally honest, but if we had to pick one or the other, I’m gonna default more towards that kind of academic or career pathway with your brand in.
Great. Um, and I know you spoke a bit before about how it’s better to kind of have that consistent branding. Um, a student here is wondering what if their personal brand changes throughout high school? Um, is it a bad thing, for example, for a student to be a prospective pre-med student to wanting to go into business?
How are they able to align their personal brand when it comes in time for college applications? No. I mean, it’s not a bad thing at all. I mean, I, I think to be fair, I, I think a lot of people do have a change of heart and, huh. I think it was like something like 80% of all college applicants change their major at least once.
So a change of heart is real. Right. That makes total sense. Um, the reality here is that you are not the only person that controls your brain and that’s something I probably should have said during the presentation who also controls your brain is what others are saying about. Right. So your letters of recommendation are, are these individuals that you’re gonna be going to, to write these for you?
Are they gonna be writing these as if you’re in that medical pathway or are they gonna be able to identify that you’re actually, no, you’re now kind of focused on going in that more business management route, or maybe that entrepreneurial spirit letters of recommendation. That’s oh gosh, this is a good point.
Letters recommendation. I have kind of quietly referred to as the silent killer of applications, uh, over the years, because many cases, a student will go to a teacher that they think they have a great relationship with. And that teacher gives, uh, a three or four sentence recommendation letter. You need to be picking the people that truly know you, and that will go to bat for you and actually provide you with a legitimate letter that defines who you are and what you’re in pursuit.
The reason that these letters recommendations can be so impactful or, or excuse me, that can work against you and be that killer is in many cases, a teacher that you thought you knew quite well will say that you’re in pursuit of route a, but then in your application materials, you said that you were in pursuit of route.
I, well, now, as an admissions officer, I I’ve gotta pick who I’m going with. Are, am I gonna take the 17 year old? That’s telling me they’re in pursuit of rap. Or am I gonna kind of lean towards what the teacher that’s been teaching for 20 plus years is gonna tell me that you’re in pursuit of route a, who do I go with?
Right. And if you’re smart, you know, who most people are gonna go with, it’s gonna be the teacher where 20 years of experience, because not to be rude most people’s natural default. When they think about teenagers is what teenager actually knows what they wanna do. Now, if you’ve paid attention this evening, you know, that I disagree with that line of thinking, okay.
But that’s how most people are gonna default. So you wanna make sure that you’re script. Not, I shouldn’t say scripting, but that you’re controlling. What is being said about union letters of recommendation. You should be connecting with these individuals, not just asking them to write these for you. You should be going over ideally what you would like for them to bring up in these letters of recommendation.
So that they’re gonna back up what you’re saying about yourself and your own application materials. Great. Thank you. Um, and this next one is an interesting question. Um, so this student is wondering, you know, do colleges have their own personal brands? How do I know if my personal brand aligns with a certain college?
And what if a school doesn’t necessarily doesn’t necessarily like my personal brand? Uh, that’s actually a really good question. So the school brand, that first part of your question’s difficult to answer. Um, they’re always changing, right? A university gets new leadership in things tend to change over a five to eight year period.
So school brands are kind of always changing. Um, one thing to keep in mind is, is when you’re looking at these schools and getting a feel for the brands in the community is understanding the difference between, is it a community or is it a competitive environment? There are schools where does, and I’m not gonna name schools, cuz I don’t wanna, you know, extend my feelings and beliefs of a school to you.
Um, but there are schools where. In my experience, it’s not really a community. It’s just a competition every day. Are you okay with that? Are you, do you wanna be a part of a competitive environment, you know, a competitive academic environment, or do you wanna be a part of a social community, right? Where it’s a group of social academics.
In other words, students that are serious about their academic pursuits, but are also wanting to be social in, in, you know, supporting of one another in their both academic and personal growth. And that’s the way I would be looking at.
Great. And how would you suggest that students go about finding out what a college’s personal brand and the vibe on campus is like, uh, getting connected with students that do not work for an admissions office, getting connected with students that are not a tour guide, uh, notice respect. Um, to tour guides.
I was one of the heads of the tour of the tour guides at Vanderbilt. Uh, one of the three people that ran that program and the reality here is everyone’s like, I love the tour guide. She was amazing. He was great. Awesome. They’re coached to be right. So they’re, they’re on their best day, every day because they’re, they’re coached to be, and they’re paid to be, you need to remember that admissions officers and tour guides while they’re not lying to you, they’re giving you the perfect image of that school.
You need to get connected with people that are outside of those. People that are paying for that school’s experience, not being paid to talk with you that are gonna give you a lot more honest, you know, I think opinion of what that daily experience is really like, um, you know, and to do that, there are a couple options, but, uh, one option is that you slide into the DMs of random people on LinkedIn and hope that they reply to you.
And frankly, I don’t think sliding into anyone’s DMs is very professional. Um, the other thing to do is we can facilitate that for. So one of the things that we do here at CollegAdvisor, and I think that’s one of the things that I love about our, our team is that our team is so open to working with everybody.
And so we will actually place students and families that are in the exploration stage, in contact with current students and recent graduates of these schools that you then get to sit down and interview and ask those more challenging questions that maybe an admissions office doesn’t necessarily want to give you the most direct answer.
I had a student I was working with, um, a while back and, um, getting her connected with the current student was a game changer of her. She’d been told by this one of her top schools that she was exploring, that they had plenty of writing support on campus that she would be well taken care of. And this young lady was very concerned about writing cuz she was gonna be in a pretty writing intensive major.
Well, when she got connected with the current student, she thought to ask a similar question about writing support to the current student. And the student goes, yeah, no, there’s, there’s 15,000 people on this campus. There’s one writing lab. She’s like, you’re not gonna get any help unless you book an appointment 10 to 12 days in advance.
And I completely changed the opinion of that young lady on that school that had been in her on the top of her list. Now I don’t view that as being a bad thing. I view that as being a good thing because of getting her connected with the real student at that school, she was now able to remove that school from her list because now she knew it wasn’t gonna be able to offer her the support that she felt.
She. That’s a good move on her part, not ending up somewhere, that wasn’t gonna be able to provide her and, and take care of her, her own opinion. So in my opinion, it worked out for the. Gotcha. Thank you. Um, and that actually kind of transitions well to my next point here, which is a little bit of a plug for college advisor.
Um, so for those of you in the room who aren’t already working with us, we really know how overwhelming the college divisions process can be, uh, for parents and students alike. So here at CollegeAdvisor.com, we have a team of over 300 former admissions officers and admissions. Experts we’re ready to help you and your family navigate the college admissions process in these one-on-one advising sessions.
I, myself am an admissions experts here and I am currently a student at Columbia. So if any of you are ever interested in learning more about the school, um, I can definitely give you my honest opinion there as well. And we have a host of other admissions experts and former AOs that are willing to share their experiences at their prospective colleges as well.
Um, and you. Sign up for a free 15 minute strategy session with someone here at CollegeAdvisor.com, um, using the steps on the screen here, um, and shifting back over to the next part of our Q&A. Um, so the next question that we have up is kind of about those passion projects. Um, and I know you spoke before Farrell about how you’ve helped different students.
Kind of formulate their passion projects and pursue them. Um, so just wondering any advice of starting a passion project, and one, would you say is a good time to start it? Someone here is wondering, is it too late to start one in your senior year? Um, so any advice you have there would be much appreciated.
Yeah, no, I, I think, I, I think it’s not too late to do a passion project. Uh, absolutely not. If you’re a senior, um, the reality is, is that you just need to have an honest expectation of what you can get out of it, uh, in the limited time that you have. Okay. Be honest with yourself. Uh, yes, you, you do have time, especially if you’re gonna be doing more of the regular decision applications.
Um, obviously. Your early action applications, depending upon some of those schools, some of those schools are due October 1, October 15th. Um, so if you’re applying to a school like that, I mean, are, where are you in the app process? I mean, are you done with your essays? Um, are, are you far enough along where you can, you know, dedicate the time that’s gonna take to do a passion project?
Mm. If not, you need to be honest with yourself and focus on your applications. Um, not having one is not the end of the world. Uh, but if you do have the time, absolutely. Yeah. If you can get that off the ground confidently without stressing you. For sure do it. Um, passion projects, when, when you really feel solid and strong about something, when you feel led to do it, I don’t care if you’re a freshman or you’re senior, if you can confidently do it without over-stressing yourself, do it a hundred percent.
Obviously the longer you’re able to stick with it, the better, um, because you know, greater time that we see someone invested is just stronger proof that you’re real about it. Uh, but certainly if you’re a senior, do not have any hesitation about starting that as long as you’re confident that it’s not gonna take away from your missions applications, because obvious.
that’s really what the terms, if you get in or not. Great. Thank you. Um, and this student here is wondering how does having a personal brand benefit you other than the purposes of, you know, looking good on a college application? Um, how else can it translate within your life?
Thank you for the challenging question. Let me, let me first say that. Um, I’m not gonna give you an answer. Uh, I’m not, I’m not gonna give you a, a flubbed answer here. I’m just gonna be very honest with you. I’m I’m looking this from a college admissions perspective. Okay. Um, if, if, if you’re gonna build a brand for yourself, In this case, this instance you’re doing it because you’re, you’re serious about what you’re pursuing and you’re trying to be as competitive as possible in, in the review process.
Now, if it’s not just the missions, application process, building a brand for yourself will also help you once you’re in college, because now you’re gonna have done things that you’re gonna have historical proof to that when you start applying for internships and research opportunities, now you have more.
Ammunition, if you will, to argue that you’re the one for these professors to hire and to take on, because you’ve been doing this since you were in, you know, in high school. Right. So it doesn’t just directly impact your admission side of things. It’s gonna impact, you know, opportunities that develop once you’re in school.
Um, so that’s another way that I would look at it. Um, outside of that, if you’re trying to use a passion project to. Social platform for yourself. Um, great. Awesome. Um, but just keep in mind for all I intents and purposes of this conversation, we’re using it for getting you into school and then getting you more opportunities once you’re in those schools.
Great. Thanks for answering that. Um, so the next question we have up here as soon a student it’s asking, you know, if you’ve faced a lot of adversity in your life, can that be a part of your personal brand and your applications? I’ve gotta be very cautious in how I answer this question. Okay. Um, can it be absolutely, absolutely.
It can be. Um, is that what defines you though? Okay. Um, is that how you want to be known and recognized? Um, you’ve gotta be very cautious in how you wanna talk about this and, and let me get some context here. I’m not saying not to, um, But what I will say is that there is an essay topic on the common application that’s going away next year, that relates to going from going through a significant amount of diversity and growing from it.
Um, there’s been a lot of concern about that essay topic by schools, because schools have seen a vast majority of students using that in their response. Um, and students many times have felt that they now have to go through something to get into a more competitive school. And if they haven’t gone through something that they have no shot, no.
And that is not the case. Um, so having gone through adversity is, is that, um, is that impactful? There’s no doubt about it that it’s impactful. Uh, does it impact, and you know who you are and develop who you are? Absolutely. My respectful response would be, just be consider of the angle that you’re trying to play with it.
Right. You know, what is the full story that you’re trying to tell, um, when you’re mentioning the adversity that you’ve gone through, just be cognizant of that, um, and, and make sure that you’re bringing awareness perhaps to where you’re going, not what you’ve been through, but I would, I would turn most of the focus onto where you’re trying to go next.
That would be my, my consideration. That’s great. Thank you for answering that. Um, so next question we have up is how can I ensure that my personal brand is unique? Does my personal brand have to be unique order schools understand that there will be overlap in students’ personal brands? Yeah, I, I think the last part was nailed it schools understand there’s gonna be some overlap.
Right. Um, it, it, it’s certainly the reality now that we face. Um, but if I’m being honest with you, you know, Most students today aren’t developing this, right. You know, most students are, are lacking a brand in the process. So while there may be some overlap, it’s, it’s gonna be rare. You know, it’s not gonna be as, as much as you might expect.
Um, it, it, it’s almost entirely impossible, uh, to be totally unique anymore in terms of activities that you’re bringing to the table, internships, research opportunities. Um, it’s what you’re trying to kind of illustrate with. It is where you’re trying to take it, where, where you’re going with it. That I think is the goal here.
Don’t focus on the accomplishments, focus on what you’re trying to build and do next. And if you can do that, then you’re gonna, that brain is gonna work for you perfectly, um, being unique while that is the obvious goal, uh, for sure. Um, it, it is a lot more difficult to be, but just think of the rarity of people that are actually doing this, um, that does make you unique in and of.
Perfect. Thanks for answering that. Um, so next question you have up is where can I see some examples of personal brands and what are some examples of personal brands? Well, the, you know, the two examples that I gave would be, you know, two solid examples. Um, Where you can find more. It it’s difficult. Right?
So students aren’t putting their resumes out there for other people to see. Right. Um, you can find some, um, some degree of examples on things like YouTube, um, you know, understanding what someone has built for themselves, um, and developed and distributed. Yeah. That those are ideas of brands that you can find there.
But if you go on Google college, personal brand, you’re not gonna find. Right. Um, this is an idea right there. This is not something that everybody’s doing. Um, some people, instead of calling it a brand, some people like to refer to this as a narrative. Um, but if you go and Google that, you’re not gonna find anything for it.
Branding is unique to your personal story, right. And. What I wanna encourage you to understand here is that it’s, it’s difficult to, to go quote unquote, look for other examples of brands, because that’s not gonna be unique to you, right? Your brand here is more or less your story and where you’re trying to go with it next.
Um, it’s about how you communicate that. That’s what really defines your brands, how you communicate that. That definitely makes sense. Thank you. Um, and I know that you spoke a bit before about the different ways that you can build your personal brand. Um, but some students here are wondering, you know, what’s the first step.
What would you recommend, um, is the first place to start building your personal brand? Yeah. So let’s in, in order to answer that, let’s assume that you’ve kind of established. An area that you wish to kind of become more specific to let’s let’s at least establish that right. To establish your brand.
You’re you’re trying to become specific to something. So let’s establish that you’ve or let’s just pretend that you’ve established that you’re gonna go over something very specific once you’ve determined, what that thing or academic focus or potential career field is. Now you start looking for the opportunity to perhaps interview different individuals in the.
Maybe over a cup of coffee in person or over zoom. Um, perhaps, you know, looking for, you know, some academic summer camp opportunities, uh, looking for some shouting opportunities. Now here, here’s the thing. And I’m gonna be very blunt here, cuz that’s who I am and I’m not trying to be rude. A lot of students and parents don’t do anything because they’re not willing to do a cold email or a cold call.
You’ve gotta be willing to send a completely blind email or to take a, make a completely blind, cold call and ask for an opportunity. Um, so example here, like a lot of times I’ll have a student like, well, how do I find internships? And I don’t mean to be rude. It’s you, you look online in your local vicinity and you start calling, let’s say it’s a medical pathway.
Start calling pediatric offices. Start calling physical therapy offices that still counts as medical start calling. Chiropractor’s. That still counts as medical, um, even start calling dental offices and looking for those opportunities, introduce yourself. Um, you know, during the pandemic we had students that, you know, they couldn’t go in and get shadowing opportunities at medical facilities, but they could do it at a veterinarian’s office.
They will go veterinarians, not medical. Well, yeah, it is because pre-dental pre veterinarian and pre-medical are all the same undergraduate pathway. Right. So going in and observing a biological, being, being operated on a dog has a heart. It has lungs has a liver, right? So that’s an opportunity that still relates.
So utilizing, being willing to talk to perhaps your own veterinarian, if you have a cat or dog. There’s so many pets today. I can’t even keep up with all the different animals that are pets, uh, fever, a bird. So ask your local veterinarian. If you can come in and observe, ask your own dentist, if you can come in and observe for a day or two, those are great places to start.
As you start to get more specific and really find an area or field that you really feel called to. Um, for example, like had some students this year that have really told me a lot about their interest in neuroscience, then start looking for specific neuroscience interests. Right? Have you obviously shadowed with a neurosurgeon?
Cool. Um, have you gone into a local facility and observe the research that is taking place at a local university that might be close by to you? Look for those opportunities, introduce yourself to the professors. It might take you 10 or 12 emails. So. If they respond, they respond. Don’t expect someone to give you a response on the first phone call or the first email.
A lot of times these individuals are testing you to see how dedicated and, and serious you are about it. If you quit after three or four emails, they don’t think you’re serious. You have to have the tenacity to see through it and stay with it and stay on top of it. If you wanna sound, if you want me to sound totally extreme, I would say, create a schedule on these days.
I’m gonna send another email to these five people, right? And then the next day, I’m gonna send another email to these four people and just cycle until you start getting a. You have to be that committed to it. That’s definitely great advice. Thank you. Um, and I do see that we have, um, Five minutes left here.
So I did wanna ask the last question here, which is what is the last piece of advice that you want to leave your audience with tonight? And it can be related to personal branding, or it can also just be about the college application process in general. I, I would say start this process obviously kind of, as I said earlier as a family.
Um, but start this conversation by talking about finances. Um, not to be political with the most recent, I think, you know, stuff in the news. Um, but college does cost a lot of money and it is a, it can be a significant stress to a lot of people. Um, I respectfully would encourage every family to start establishing, you know, what you would feel comfortable, you know, paying for college, what you would feel comfortable, perhaps taking a loan for.
Um, I, I certainly don’t wanna see anyone go to school and, and then be, you know, overloaded with a, you know, significant amount of debt. Um, so start trying to identify a financial kind of range that you as a family or as a student would be comfortable paying for or taking a loan out for. And then start to develop your school list around that.
I think that will also really shorten the process for you to make sure that you’re applying to schools that are gonna prepare you and give you the opportunities that you’re looking for, but that are also not gonna burden you to where you can’t go, you know, enjoy the fruit of your labor, you know, 10 or 15 years from now.
So that, that would be my personal recommendation. And please don’t mean that with the greatest respect.
That’s great advice. Thank you really big. Thank you to you far for all of the helpful information and insights. Um, as I see in the chat, all of our audience found it to be super helpful and insightful. So thank you. Um, and that is actually the end of the webinar. we had a really great time telling you about personal branding.
Um, and over here we have our September webinar series. So we’re gonna start off on the first with the Princeton Panel. Um, the next week we have Fine Tuning Your College List, Strategizing Your MIT Application, Understanding Application Deadlines. Um, the week after we have Writing About STEM and Research in Your College Essays.
Um, Writing About Sports as a Student Athlete. Um, and then the next week we have Writing About You: The Personal Statement, Supplemental Essays 201, um, University of Michigan Panel. And to round out the month, we have Navigating College Admissions With Your Child, for parents who are in the audience.
Um, so I hope to see some of you guys there, and I hope that everyone has a good night. Thank.