Crafting Your Story: Effective Strategies for College Essays

Are you a high school student gearing up to tackle the daunting task of college application essays? Do you find yourself struggling to convey your unique voice and experiences on paper? Fear not! Our webinar, “Crafting Your Story: Effective Strategies for College Essays,” is here to help you unleash your creativity and craft compelling narratives that will captivate college admissions officers.

Join admissions expert Aya Waller-Bey for an engaging and informative webinar designed specifically for high school students and their families. She will provide you with invaluable insights and strategies to help you navigate the intricacies of college essay writing and stand out from the competition.

During this webinar, you will:

  1. Understand the purpose of the college essay: Discover why the essay is a crucial component of your college application and how it can differentiate you from other applicants.
  2. Discover your unique story: Unleash your creativity and uncover compelling narratives that highlight your personal growth, resilience, and passions.
  3. Master the art of storytelling: Learn techniques for engaging readers, creating vivid descriptions, and building a cohesive narrative structure.
  4. Craft impactful introductions and memorable conclusions: Understand how to hook your readers from the very beginning and leave a lasting impression.
  5. Navigate common essay pitfalls: Identify common mistakes and pitfalls to avoid, ensuring that your essay stands out for all the right reasons.

Your college essay is an opportunity to showcase your personality, values, and aspirations. This webinar will equip you with the tools and strategies necessary to craft an essay that authentically represents you and resonates with admissions officers.

Don’t let the college essay become an obstacle in your application process. Join us for the “Crafting Your Story: Effective Strategies for College Essays” webinar and gain the confidence to tell your unique story. Register now and embark on a transformative journey of self-expression and creativity!

Date 06/13/2023
Duration 1:01:39

Webinar Transcription

2023-06-13 – Crafting Your Story/ Effective Strategies for College Essays

Hi everyone. My name is Stacey Tuttle, and I am your moderator today. Welcome to “Crafting your Story: Effective Strategies for College 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.

Now let’s meet our panelists. Thank you so much, Stacey. Hello everyone. My name is Aya Waller-Bey and I am a former admissions officer, currently working with CollegeAdvisor. A little bit about me, I am a proud first generation college student from Detroit, Michigan. And I attended Georgetown University for undergrad where I studied sociology and minored in African American studies.

Shortly after I began my tenure as an admissions officer and I also did a lot of the multicultural recruitment. After my tenure there, I went on to England to get my master’s in philosophy of Education at the University of Cambridge as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. And then also participated in alumni interviewing for Georgetown where I was able to interview students from all over the world, which was really exciting.

I now am earning my PhD in sociology at the University of Michigan. And fun fact, my dissertation is about college admissions essays. So I’m super excited to be here and to answer your questions about how to develop effective strategies for college essays.

Thank you so much. So with that we’re going to start with a brief poll. We wanna get a sense of who’s in the room today, so let us know what grade you’re in. I’m sure there’s a variety here. We tend to get a lot of juniors and seniors, but let’s see who’s in the room. I, while we’re waiting for the poll results to come in, I’m curious do you have.

A favorite essay, just a topic, whatever they wrote about few sentences or a phrase, a favorite essay that sticks out in your mind. Cupcakes. Cupcakes. So that’s a great place to start. Let that, you know, simmer with you audience today as we kind of soak in some really great advice. So, looking at the poll here, it, you know, aligns well that we have juniors and seniors.

It’s pretty typical. We also have some freshmen and sophomores and some, you know, who might not. We even have an eighth grader and some who might not fall into any of these grades. So, nice little variety here. I’m gonna turn this back over to you, Aya, for the main presentation. Fantastic. Again, I’m so excited to be with you, be with you all tonight.

So to start, you know, people wonder what types of essays do they have to write for their college applications? So, something to think about there is the college personal statement, which is perhaps the more popular essay. It’s the one we talk a lot about. It’s, it’s the one we see a lot also mentioned in the media.

And the college personal state statement is a essay submitted to colleges, universities that really showcase your student voice, your writing skills and reveal depth and add context, your application, the college personal statement. If you use a platform, say like the common app, the common app you are writing one college personal statement that will then go to all of the schools to which you apply.

So of course with that being said, that college personal statement, that college essay does not need to specify the school, right? Because it is going to be submitted to various universities. Then you have what is offered by some schools or supplemental essays or supplements. Now these are additional essays that invite students to write about variety of topics, and they’re often school specific prompts.

So unlike that personal statement, supplemental essays are required by only some colleges and universities and are used to highlight fit. They’re also asking, again, institutional specific questions. They really want to show that you’ve done your homework, done some additional research, and can really speak to why X institution is a good fit.

What about you, your values, your interests, your goals aligns with what the school offers and provides, and being able to speak to that in some level of specificity. There’s also a scholarship essay, so again, this is less common for college applications, but students may be invited to write additional essays for merit-based scholarships or grants.

I’ve worked with students during my time with CollegeAdvisor that apply to certain public universities that asks them to, you know, submit an additional essay about interest maybe computing community service, something of their passions, their goals, their major interest, their disciplinary interest in that context or information was then used to award them a scholarship or a grant.

So some colleges will also require a scholarship essay.

So moving along, you know, what is the significance of the college essay? And I kind of alluded to it in the, the, the first slide there. You know, the essays give a unique touch. The college essay is one of the few opportunities in the application where you’re able to speak directly to the admissions officers, right?

When the admissions officers get to directly here from you, your perspective, your voice, and therefore it adds a lot of value to an application, right? They’re supposed to really help you. It provides an opportunity for you to tell your story in your own words, which is incredibly important, right? You have those letter of recommendations where you have teachers or school counselors or notable people in your community writing letters about you, right?

In their own words describing you. And your essay allows you to describe yourself. It also adds some qualitative information to your application, right? So universities will have those grades. They’ll have those standardized test scores, right? So the essay provides some additional context, some qualitative, right?

It allows us to, to evaluate your writing, to see how well you respond to a question, how you’re able to stay on the topic, right? So the essay is giving a adding a lot to the application. That’s a really help students kind of really, you know, put that unique touch and stand out in the process. So, speaking on standing up, you know, what factors make for a great essay and, and, you know, how can students stand out?

Of course, this is a very popular question. I get it. Six times a week, maybe that was a slight exaggeration, but I get it quite often, right? So a great college essay, a it, you know, it prevents information and ideas in a focused. In thoughtful manner. Now I wanna emphasize focus, right? You don’t have to throw everything but the kitchen sink in this essay.

You wanna pick a topic and stay on topic. It also, you know, a great college essay uses specific concrete examples to convey points, and it focuses on examples on the present and near past. So you really want me to tell and paint. A story, right? You really want to be able to use specific examples, right?

Take us there, you know, you don’t want, so, you know, language that is so void of any personal touch where it seems like anybody could have written the essay, right? You know, it also tells admissions officers about students, right? Personal triumphs or challenges, leadership opportunities and experiences outside the classroom.

Now, of course, there are so many notable and special important moments that happen inside the classroom, but it just, what I mean peer is that, you know, they’ll have your academic record. They’ll have those grades, they’ll have that transcript. So this, again, this personal statement is allowing you to talk more about who you are in other areas of your life, which is a really, again, important aspect of this, of your application.

And this cannot go unsaid. It demonstrates good use of grammar, right? So you definitely want to be able to demonstrate proficiency. In English, right? The essay should be written in English, even though some students might use small phrases that signal their culture and background, which I’ll talk a little bit about later.

So, in addition, you know, what factors are, you know, help you kind of, again, make for a great essay, help you stand out. Again, a great college essay, it ensures that the student answers the question, right? So you definitely want to answer the question. This is of even greater importance for those supplements where they’re asking very specific questions.

And sometimes you have, I don’t know, a hundred words, sometimes you can have 20 words. Sometimes you can have 250 words, right? So that, that college essay, that personal statement, the one that you submit to all the schools, that’s about 650 words. Supplements tend to be a, a lot shorter. So you really wanna make sure you are focused and you’re answering the question that they ask.

You also want to effectively describe how the experienced detail has led to some personal growth or understanding or belongingness in a way that’s demonstrating substantial maturity, character, and open-mindedness. So you really need to be able to show that this experience just didn’t happen. You know, I walked to the store and this happened.

Okay, what was the value, right? What, first of all, what motivated you to tell this story? What do you want me to walk away knowing and learning about you from the stories you tell or the experiences you decide to share? Right? So there are so many ways and opportunities to do that, but you really want to effectively be able to communicate that.

You also wanna ensure that it’s a student voice, right? It, it should be polished and free of major grammatical errors and typos, but it should not re, like I wrote it, right? As someone who just finished their fifth year in a PhD program. I will write very differently than a high school student, right? So therefore, the essay should be your student voice.

It should speak to you. It should not be written by someone else who is not you. So that is something to really think about. Okay. And then again, finally, a great college essay is using specific concrete examples to convey, you know and it should focus on, again, examples on the present and your past. So you really want to make sure you are as specific as possible and, and add detail where necessary.

Again, the admissions officers won’t know you, so they won’t know things about you unless you tell them. So how can you highlight your unique experiences and personalities in your essays? Well, again, first and foremost, you wanna focus on your own story and lived experience. I, I really highlight that because so often I, I read or I.

Converse with students when they talk about how, you know, their grandparent was such a, a pivotal character in their life and really affected why they desire to pursue a certain academic interest. And the entire essay is written about the grandparent. And unfortunately the university is not trying to admit the grandparent.

They’re trying to admit the students. So you do wanna focus on your own story. One thing I encourage student to do is just make a list of five to seven memorable experiences that stand out to them and really kind of reflect on why is this significant? What did I learn? Okay? You also wanna ask people you know, and and trust to describe you.

And this is a really great way for those of us who get in our heads sometimes, and it’s so hard sometimes to write about ourselves. You know, ask people you know and trust, right? And ask them to describe them. Describe you. Consider how their distractions may match your own self perception and reflect on those sim similarities and consider incorporating those qualities into your essay.

So sometimes when we zoom out and we get to hear what other people think about us, you know you know, I, I work with students sometimes and they’re, and they say, well, I’m not good at this particular thing. And then I’ll look at the extracurriculars and it just shows such a, a high level of emotional intelligence and compassion.

And I’m like, you are phenomenal, right? I see this. So sometimes it’s difficult for us to see things about ourselves and then also whenever possible, you wanna incorporate elements of culture that can be language or expressions that reflect your distinct cultural experiences. So, you know, I love essays where people talk about where they’re from, you know, and some people might say, well, my town is just like any other suburban town, but.

It’s not right. There’s something distinct about your experience. Maybe it’s a street, maybe it’s a park, maybe it’s an ice cream parlor. There’s something about our, our various communities and our cultures that make us who we are and that contribute to who we are and how we understand the world.

And I think if there’s opportunities to, you know, connect those pieces, I think it really can help a essay stand out and, and be really unique. So, given that, what are some of the common mistakes, you know, to avoid? And I kind of talked a little bit about some of these, but I always encourage students to avoid writing essays that focus on other people.

You know, even if the prompt is asking about, you know, someone who inspire and motivate you, they still, they being the admissions officer, still want to know about you, right? So even in telling these stories, they want to know more about you, what you learned, what about this relationship was so special, how it affected you, how it motivated you, how you’ve grown, right?

So definitely wanna center your center yourself. Also avoid writing essays about overly common or controversial topics such as sports and politics. Now I am going to clarify this here. I think if you ask admissions officers, which is what I do in my research when I interview them, you know, what essays are, they do, they read most commonly right across the board.

They were gonna say essays about sports and athletics. And that includes dance and activities. Losing a loved one losing grandparents injuries, sport in sports injuries, mission trips abroad. Service trips abroad are very common. Running for office in, in high school. So running for class president or maybe losing the race trying out for a team and not making the team those topics we see every emission cycle.

Now the word avoid is, is, is quite a strong one. But it’s, it’s something to think about, you know, how can you tell a story about who you are? That also again, highlights distinct qualities about the person you are and what contributions you make to your community, and the contributions you make, may, may make to your institution of choice.

So just really kind of dig deep there and think about, you know, how you can describe who you are without being, you know, cliche if you will. Also, you know, politics. Now we have students. I went to Georgetown. It’s in Washington, D.C. it’s in the nation’s capital. A lot of students go there because they have great in politics.

So I really want to think about I really want you to think about, you know, How you are telling stories that also may not offend the reader, right? So think about that. You don’t know people, you don’t know the people personally reading your essays. So just keep in mind when you’re telling stories to, to be mindful of that, right?

You also wanna avoid writing essays that are read, like a professor wrote them, I mentioned that earlier. And you want to avoid mentioning experiences without describing them. So you’ll hear a lot of folks say, show don’t tell. So it’s like, show us, right? So there’s a difference, you know, from saying like, you know I’m a very compassionate person versus describing and time you demonstrated compassion.

So those are different ways of approaching. You wanna avoid in the college. Personal statement in particular, naming a university and college, right? So, Again, that personal statement is gonna go to a lot of different universities. So you just wanna avoid just, you know, naming universities. So if you send a you know, a essay to University of Michigan it shouldn’t say Michigan State, you know, again, I live in Michigan, so, but those, that’s why I use that example.

You also wanna avoid overly using it, the source. I mean, I’ve seen essays and I’m just like, Hmm, what does this word mean? Or Why are you choosing this word as opposed to another one? So just be mindful of that. Avoid complex sentences that could be written in mu multiple, smaller sentences. I see this a lot.

I am also a very wordy writer. And I think in academia we write very, you know, it’s a lot of complexity to our, our writing, a lot of jargon. But for you, you know, you really want to make sure that you’re telling your ideas in smaller sentences. You know, one sentence should not be a paragraph, so keep that in mind.

And also try to avoid passive voice whenever possible. So try to use active language. So how can students write clearly about themselves while still be being creatively rather, while still being clear and concise? So, you know, you wanna stick to a structure to ensure your ideas remain organized, right?

Organization is key and that really helps you stay on track, right? So if you are talking about a really, you know, if you’re writing a, a abstract essay, which we see sometimes it’s gonna, you, we need to be able to follow what you’re talking about, right? So there needs to be a clear beginning, middle end, like for anything you write, right?

So you want to have a clear structure. I always encourage students to outline. That’s a great way to make sure. Intro. I’m gonna talk about this. These are the three, four points I wanna talk about. Conclusion. This is how I’m going to wrap it up. As always, again, use specific and concrete examples, right? You, you want to make sure you’re being specific and telling your story.

You wanna watch out for long and and complex synthesis, right? So, again, I, I just highlighted at that point, very important. Again, you wanna incorporate elements of like, culture and identity, things that are, be more specific to you. You know, say that you have you know, say there was a pair of shoes that you’re, that’s been passed down for the past three generations, right?

Of course there’s other people who might have shoes that were passed down, but tell the story that will be specific to you. Why was it passed down? What’s the significance of these shoots, right? So again, you wanna talk about yourself and I think. We, we overthink that part. You’re like, I don’t have anything unique.

No. Who you are. You are an individual, right? There’s something special about all of us. And also you wanna try to define less well-known terms or expressions in your essays. I do have times where students go so abstract or they use so much jargon, especially for some of my STEM students, and it’s like, I don’t know what this means, or, so, you know, you really wanna make sure you’re writing clearly and that people understand that a broad audience, people outside of your discipline could, you know, understand what you’re talking about specifically in the college personal statement.

There’s sometimes opportunities in those supplemental essays or school specific essays where you could kind of get in the weeds a little bit for, but for the general audience, you really wanna make sure you know, you’re defining or communicating clearly what you know, less well known terms or expressions mean in your essay.

So how can students edit their essays effectively? This is great. So, you know, first I, you know, I, I know a lot of folks use kind of Google Docs. I, I’m still a, a Microsoft Word person when it comes to like, writing long documents. And I, I love the read aloud feature. So you could, even, if you use Google Docs copy and paste and then press, there’s a a and there’s like a little like sound emoji, if you will, and it’ll read it back to you.

It’s a great way to catch, you know you know, words that you may have misspelled or words that you’ve used in the wrong context. You know, as you continue to work on these essays, and there will be several drafts, should, I might remind you you’re gonna like, get tired of looking at them and then your brain is gonna say, oh, I know what I meant here, so you’re gonna start passing over some of the kind of errors, right?

So that read aloud feature is, it’s, it’s really key. Also just proofread. So this is an example often used, right, where a word is used, or a word is spelled correctly, but used incorrectly. So an example, I enjoy torturing animals. I volunteer torturing animals at a local shelter since eighth grade, and they experience solidified my desire to become a veterinarian.

Now, I don’t think this person wants to torture animals, right? So they probably meant train, right? They enjoy training animals, right? They’ve been training animals at a local shelter, but they wrote torture repeatedly. And of course, you know, it’s spelled correctly. So it, it, you know, spell check won’t necessarily pick that up.

So again, just be careful after finishing a draft, you know, take at least 24 hours before reviewing it. Again, this is something I’ve practiced. A lot as someone who’s in graduate school writing thousands and thousands and thousands of words every day. And then also, you know, have a teacher, counselor or someone you trust review the statement.

You know, have people look over it, you know, you know, have other folks who who are not as familiar with this statement, take a look at it. What are their thoughts? That’s a really great way to edit your essays effectively. Oh, and there’s also, of course, Grammarly, you know, a plugin that I have, right as well that can really help see, you know, where some of the words may be used in incorrectly, or it might be passive voice and et cetera.

So also, Grammarly is a great resource. So you know, asking about the question and Stacey asked me this earlier, you know, what are essays that have stood out to you? Again, I’ve read so many essays so many and I, and I say I actually enjoy it. One of my favorite parts of like, reviewing applications, again, I study essays actually.

I really like essays that reflect so essays that reflect student ambition and growth, and they highlight student’s tenacity or they paint colorful photos of the human experience. And I know when Stacey asked me, what essay stood out to me? And still vividly remember a student who had a cupcake business and she was a first generation college student and she had a cupcake business, and she described her cupcakes.

I mean, I wanted to eat them. I was like, is there a way I can get a cupcake? Where can I place my order? Of course, I couldn’t do that during the, the process, right? But I, I just really loved how, how she incorporated what the value of, you know, how these cupcakes told their own stories, but how she was so, you know, her, her ingenuity, right?

And how she was, you know, literally went through the process of starting her own business and was selling these cupcakes in her community and at her school, and how how much pride she took in to doing that. It was just a really beautiful essay. I also love essays of what we might consider mundane experiences.

So I, I love, you know, the day in a Life essay, right? Essays that kind of talk about as someone just interacting with their community and the world around them and, and, and the what they learn and glean. So students who, who have jobs, you know, at Subway and the people they encounter while working in the drive-through.

And, you know, I think there’s so many beautiful ways to just tell our stories. And I, and I think those essays that kind of speak to that again, that human experience are ones that really stand out to me.

All right. So as we kind of approach some final tips, you know you know, something that I always, you know, really try to hone in and I said this earlier, is to really show and don’t tell, you know, so instead of, again, I learned a lot volunteering at the Cleveland Animal Shelter, right? Okay. You, you just, you just told us that you can say, while feeding the sick puppies with the other shelter volunteers, I learned the importance of teamwork and compassion, right?

So you just told us what you learned, and you also said like how through what means, right? Through what mechanisms. And that was while feeding the sick puppies and you were working with other people, right? So you really just want to kind of think about how you can reframe some of those moments. You want to communicate.

You also wanna share lessons learned, right? So detail how the experience or experiences you write about inform your future and the type of student you’ll be at in college, right? So it’s just not enough to talk about taking a daily walk every day, but like, okay, what’s the point? What did you learn? Like what, what about that story?

Why should we care? You know, why should we care? So being able to communicate that is, is so important, right? How has it shaped you? How has it informed you? And, and this doesn’t have to be a ground shattering epiphany, right? You can’t say, oh, I saw ambulances and. You know, save a puppy and therefore, like, it does not have to be an extreme.

Okay. I really want us to think about that. It does not have to be an extreme, it just needs to be personal, proofread a again, goals without saying you just want to look at it yourself. You want others to look at it, you know, and you really want to make sure that You are telling your story. This is a huge one, and I, and I mean this in a host of way.

So I mean, tell your own story as in write about your own experiences and not someone else’s. I mean, tell your own your story, a as in being honest about who you are and your lived experiences. So not misrepresenting who you are, I mean, tell your own story. As we think about the increasing increased use of artificial intelligence and things like chatGPT where students are using platforms such as those to craft essays.

So, you know, I really want you to think about what does it mean to tell your story in your own words, right? And I also mean as far as telling your story, having someone else, you know, write your story. So think about what does it mean to tell your own story? You should be writing your own college essay, right?

It is a personal statement. It is personal to you and your lived experience. And that’s what we wanna read. That’s what admissions officers want to read.

Thank you so much Aya. So that is the end of the presentation part of the web. I hope you all found the information to be helpful. I know I did. And remember that you can download the slides from the link in the handouts tab. So moving on to our live Q&A, I’ll read through the questions you submit in the Q&A tab, paste them into the public chat so you can see them, and then read them aloud before Aya can give you an answer.

And 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 planning page. So first question for you, Aya is actually about how much you should talk about your academics in your essays.

If you feel like you need to discuss maybe discrepancies positively or negatively say maybe you got a grade that you felt like explaining how much of that should be coming through in your essays, maybe even in those supplementals. Yeah, so thank you for that question. I’ll say this something as far as hinting towards perhaps a academic performance that you think may not align with your larger trajectory or you know, kind of leaning into, like trying to show them that you have a strong academic record.

A lot of that isn’t necessarily best. Kind of placed in the college personal statement. So I’ll say this, if you want to kind of talk about, again, maybe you got a B and you had all aides, or maybe you left school or something, there’s another opportunity to do that. Sometimes schools will actually have specific supplemental questions where they ask, they say, is there something additional you want us to know about you?

That’s where it’s appropriate to talk about that. The personal statement is not, that’s not the most appropriate place to talk about. A class that you may believe you underperformed in, or a class you may believe you over-performed in, that’s not necessarily the most appropriate space for that. And also, again, the supple, the common app may have a box there where it says, Is there something that you would like to kind of explain about your application?

That’s where you put that information in at one point, and, and Stacey, please correct me, I there was a covid question where students were able to talk about how Covid has impacted them significantly. You know, whether it’s, you know, having to lose, you know, leaving schools, death of loved ones, et cetera.

So there are opportunities in the application. I don’t think that personal statement is the most appropriate place to talk about a grade. Again, you wanna tell a story that respond to some of the points I mentioned earlier, and that is not the most appropriate place to do that. You also have teachers and counselors and other folks who are going to be writing letters of recommendation for you who will be able to speak to those things in their aspects of the application.

So that’s an opportunity for a counselor to talk about that or for a teacher to talk about that as well. So I would not write about you know, getting a grade lower than expected in a college personal statement. Yeah, I totally agree with this advice. I, I do think you should focus on answering the prompt at hand and not veering off from that prompt too much.

The, the more you focus on the an actually answering the prompt, the stronger your essay will be, and then addressing your academics in the appropriate parts of the application, such as through your counselors, your letters recommendation, like I was suggesting. Those are all really appropriate places, so I totally agree with you there.

Another question for you, Aya. How much of the content you write should be related to your field of study? And I think this again, kind of goes back to focusing on the prompt at hand, but how would you incorporate field of study and is it a bad thing if you don’t talk about field of study? So I’ll answer the second question first.

So it is not a bad thing if you do not mention at all your field of study in your college personal statement. There are so many other aspects of the application where you’ll be able to discuss your interest and sometimes if you are applying to a school specific program, so some universities, you submit one application to a larger institution and then as you progress in the institution, you then filter into a, a, a professional school or something of that sort.

If you are applying to say a school of engineering and you’re submitting an application directly and they ask you a question about why you are interested in engineering, there you go. Right? So in the why engineering or why in school question I think, and which are often supplements. There’s a great opportunity for you to discuss at length or where appropriate your academic interest, but it is not at all necessary to do that.

Some students, you know, there is just a direct link to, you know, who they are, what they wanna study, what motivates them. So they write a personal statement about that. If that’s the prompt that they choose, then so be it. But it’s not a requirement to connect your academic interests or pursuits to your college essay.

I’ve seen so many that are completely disparate. Someone writes about dance and then they wanna study finance. So it it is, it does not have to be connected. Yeah, and to that point too, if you put a lot of pressure on yourself to connect directly to your field of interest, you might lose. Focus in your essay and then waste a lot of words that you could have used to really explain your story or your narrative.

So there are definitely appropriate places to talk about it, but you don’t have to with that common app main essay I there, it seems like we have a lot of students in the audience who are interested in sports. So I do you have any insight on how to incorporate sports and you’re interested in sports into those essays?

Have you seen that really well done in, in some way, shape or form? Do you have specific advice? Students interested in sports and writing essays? So, okay, so that’s an interesting question because there are students who are interested in sports. There are students who are interested in sports and plan to play sports in college.

There are students who just play sports just for fun. And then there’s the go, there’s the writing about sports. So, as I mentioned earlier in the presentation there is not a one size fits all. I, and I, a lot of my colleagues will caution you that we read sports essays every year by hundreds of students, right?

So there are very few examples of sport essay portrayals that we have not seen. Does that mean that you write an essay about sports you will automatically disqualify? Absolutely not. Right? There are so many other aspects of the application. Most universities or a a fair amount of universities take holistic admissions approaches.

So I do not want you to think that writing a essay about playing a sport will automatically put you at a disadvantage. Now with that being said, I, I just find that sport essays have really oversaturated the market. And I think there, there, there could be perhaps distinct approaches about writing a sport.

So you know, topics that we see a lot making a team losing the game injuries. Those we see quite a bit. So there may be other opportunities for you to kind of talk about kind of lessons learned that isn’t about, I learned to train harder, I learned to work harder. You know, maybe a sport has been used to you know, you know make bridges, like connect you to a community.

You weren’t, you know, originally a part of, you know, so maybe, you know, the sport was a means to an end in some regard. So the essay isn’t completely about your love for soccer or football. Maybe there’s an opportunity to talk about, you know Some particular kind of growth or connection to the world or the broader community that isn’t cliche.

So it’s really hard to, you know, again, give a, like a matter of fact kind of response if I have not read the essay, of course. Right. But I do think there are opportunities to think more creatively about you know, sports that isn’t just, I won the game. I played the game. I lost, I got cut on a team.

I didn’t make it the first time. I try harder. I practice, I learned to schedule. I mean, those types of essays we just see so often, they’re so common that, you know, we just want to see more distinct and personalized experiences that really kind of speak to speak to who you are. And that, again, that does not mean do not absolutely write about sports, but we’ve just read, I’ve just read a lot of them.

Yeah. And there’s a, there’s a lot of, this is really helpful Aya, because there’s a lot of pat questions about injuries actually, specifically And I do agree with you that the right approach, those discussions is really talking about, you know, overcoming challenges, what you learned from those challenges that you encountered.

And so to answer that question in the chat about the injuries, we did kinda touch on that, but more specific questions in that regard. Feel free to continue clarifying a little bit of a pivot. How, what is your advice around about historical events? Is that a helpful way to approach an essay and how those connect?

Personally, it could be. I’ve seen some fun ones and I’ve seen some not so fun. Fun not, not fun being, you know, just serious and it’s been a difficult event, but absolutely, I think connecting to our past and our present and our future could be a beautiful way of telling your story. So yeah, why not? Yeah, I agree.

Another question here, when is the right time to start writing or practicing or drafting those essays? When do you typically advise students Aya, to think about these things? If you’ll be a senior in the fall, I think now is a great time to draft and start working on an essay. I mean, you can look right now, Google Common App essay questions in the 2023-2024 essay.

Questions are already live. They don’t really change much from year to year. There’s six specific questions and then that seven, choose your own adventure or topic question. So I, I always say the summer before their the fall of their senior year is a really great time. I do know some schools require students to write essays in class during their junior year or sometimes in class during their senior years.

So you can use that draft as a jumping off or a starting point. But I think this is a really great time as you’ve, you’ve wrapped up with AP exams and prom and graduation and, you know, start looking at those questions and, and start to kind of brainstorm just because when we apply to schools in the fall, especially for those of our students who are applying early or rolling admission cycles, You are gonna be inundated with applications and deadlines and a new semester and AP courses and IB diploma courses and all that fun stuff.

So as much as the writing you can get out the way I encourage you to do so, particularly for the personal statement, the common app does update August 1st, so some schools you know, update their supplemental essays, they may eliminate them completely. So, you know, you can wait until then to see what those supplement questions end up being, if any.

But right now you can, let’s work on that personal statement and that’s, and I say the time between your junior and senior year, so that summer it’s a really great time to do it. Yeah, great. I totally agree. So common app prompt, you mentioned the common app opening August 1st. Of course there are a set of prompts that you can choose from.

Do you have prompts that you would recommend over others? How, any advice around how to select amongst the options? Listen, when in doubt, just pick the seventh one. Choose your own topic. I don’t, I don’t have a choose. I don’t have a strong preference. Frankly, I think the most important thing is that you are responding to a prompt.

And what I mean by that is that there is a question, because if you don’t have a question in mind, or it’s something that you’re responding to, but essay can get a little wonky. It could start going off the rails. It’s, it’s here, you’re talking about this, and then you’re talking about that, and then you’re talking about your grandmother, and then you talk about physics and then you talk about soccer.

It’s like, where are we going with this? So you want to tell a consistent story and you want to stay organized and be on topic. So I don’t have a strong preference. I’ll say I do I say the essay prompt I see, I feel like most often is students talking about something that they’ve overcome. Hmm. I think that’s a increasingly popular topic for a host of reasons, but I don’t, I, I don’t think there’s a strong preference.

And again, I think a lot of students, if the essay doesn’t fit into one of those six anyway, they’ll just say, I’m, I’m choose your own topic. So that’s my answer. Yeah, I, I would, and to add to this, you know, if you have an essay that you’ve written already that you feel is a very strong essay in response to kind of choosing your own, that might be a great place to start.

I often also recommend, if you’re stuck between a couple, I recommend drafting some information for a couple of them. And then you might find that you could use one of the essay responses that you drafted to help with supplements later, even if you end up choosing it for your main essay. So really stuck between prompts.

That could be an, a helpful exercise. But definitely, you know, choose the one that you feel you can be the most focused in your writing because i’s point, there is nothing worse than an essay that rambles. And it’s very hard to read those, so a little bit different of a topic. Should you avoid focusing on mental health issues in your essays?

This is a question I actually get a lot. Aya, what are your thoughts? No, this is a, this is a great question and, and one that I also feel like I get commonly now should you avoid discussing mental health? No. I’ll say this, and this is me being incredibly honest. 10 years ago, I would’ve had a different response.

I think mental health is less taboo as it was just a few years ago. Universities and admissions officers, again, I interview them for my dissertation talk at length about reading about students and expressing mental health challenges. But with any essay. It’s not, I’m just gonna talk about a mental health issue or a challenge that I face.

I wanna talk about what, what happened and, and what I’ve learned or what I’ve grown or the support I’ve received or how that’s now informing the person I am and, and contributing to who I am and what type of student I’ll be. So I’ll say you do want talk. You can talk about mental health if that’s important to you.

I think, I do think, when I think about topics that are becoming, Popular. I think mental health is one of them. And students talking about the ways where they, you know, they’ve learned an instrument or they, they you know, we saw mental health essays a lot during covid. I mean, the world was in complete chaos, you know, and, and students were trying to make sense of it, and it affected a lot of our mental health.

So I, my, I don’t say absolutely not, but if again, with anything, you don’t want to simply talk about a trial or tribulation. You have to be able to discuss what you’ve learned, how you’ve grown, how you’ve navigated it through what means, through what resources, through what tools have you overcome it.

And, and with and with anything that is incredibly personal. And I’ll say this, and this is part of the work that I do in my research, I want you all to be mindful that you don’t a hundred percent know who’s reading these essays or applications on the other side, right? You think, you know, unless you’ve met your actual admissions officer, which majority of applicants have not, just be mindful that you are telling personal stories to people.

And you know, once you tell those stories, they, they now have them in their possession. So just always think about that. I think that’s not something I was, I ever kind of cautioned, or no one actually told me that. And it’s like, wow, they are, they’re humans you know, sometimes on the other side of this and they have emotions and, and feelings and experiences as well.

So I just wanted to share that. But I, to the short answer to your question I think it’s okay to write about mental health.

Yes, totally agree. And if you need to take one, have one takeaway from. This session, definitely. Okay. To talk about mental health topics. More, I guess a formatting question for you, Aya. What is the best way to start an essay? How, how do you even begin? Do you have any recommended tips for starting the writing process?

You start Hello? By name? No, I’m joking. No, do not start that way. Please. No, do not start that way. Well, I mean, okay, let me, I take that back. I mean, there are some interesting ways that someone might say that because if their, their name could be something so uncommon or so normal like I, I could think of like, of students saying like, hello, my name is John.

That’s right. And there’s a, you know, John is the most popular name in the world, or, you know, or the United States. So that could be a fun thing. So actually yeah, I mean, I think students, there’s so many different approaches to, to starting essay. Some folks like to start with like describing an event you’re reading, you’re like, what are they talking about?

You know? So some students will kind of start in with this like, abstract idea and then they’ll say, you know, and that’s when I discovered my dog ran away, you know, and you’re like reading it. Like what are they talking about? What are they’re describing? So it is a hook, you know, some students like to start with that hook to try to hook you in.

I’ve seen it done descriptively where people are talking about experiences. I’ve seen poems, I’ve seen quotes. I’ve seen you know, excerpts from writing. I’ve seen excerpts in, in different languages. You know, there’ll be a start with the sentence that’s in a language that’s not English. So, I mean, there, there’s really know kind of.

I think I would say a wrong way would just be like, hello, my name is Aya Waller Bay and I’m from Detroit, and I am, you know, I’m apply to college because I wanna be a doctor. It’s, it’s not wrong, but it does not kind of, kind of really, it’s not compelling in that regard. Right. So yeah, I set that to say that it’s really just kind of think about, you know, how, what are you trying to communicate and how you really want to lead the reader in, like, what do you want to invoke at the start of the essay?

And again, there’s so many ways to do it. You can, I, you know, you can search online, you know, for essay examples of how, you know, how students have read. I mean, have written essays. Do we, Stacey, do we have a public like. Like file of of essay examples, I believe advisor. Lemme see if I can find the precise resource, but that’s actually one of the questions in the chat now that you’re talking about it.

Do you, outside of CollegeAdvisor, do you have any other resources you would recommend? In terms of like sample personal essays? Also, I should clarify, I think comment, the Common App website has sample essays as well, so I Sorry, I’ll turn it over to you to No, I mean I think that’s a fantastic place to start because they’ve been vetted.

I think, you know, I was talking to a student earlier that I’m working with and she was saying, I see all these resources on TikTok, and she said, I don’t know what’s true, what’s not. And I was like, please ask us. Yeah, so I think Common App is a fantastic place to start to, to see essay examples also.

I’m not sure about you all, but at my school and some of the students I’ve worked with, that some of the teachers who supported students also have like kind of repositories of essays as well that they’ve collected from students. So also I would ask your schools and say, Hey, do you all have a, a binder of essays or files of sample essays that students have been willing to share?

So I think Common App is a great place to start, and I think secondly, starting with your school to see what resources they may have available because I know there are certain teachers who help students and review essays, so they may have resources. So I, I was starting those two places. Yeah, I think that’s a great place to start as well.

And CollegeAdvisor has a number, a rich set of articles and resources with sample essays. I’m including a link here of just some of those in the chat. But CollegeAdvisor does have a number of really, really great articles in addition to this. Webinar we have here today, you can read up further on strategies what essays after using CollegeAdvisors website.

So very exciting. With that, let’s actually turn over for a second to our following slide. For, for those in the room who aren’t already working with us, we know how overwhelming the admissions process can be. Our team of over 400. Former admissions officers and admissions experts are ready to help you and your family navigate all of it in one-on-one advising session sessions.

Take that next step now in your college admissions journey by signing up for a free 45 to 60 minutes strategy session with an admission specialist on our team using the QR code on the screen. During that meeting, we’ll review your current extracurricular list and application strategy, discuss how they line up with your college list, and outline the tools you need to stand out in a competitive admissions world.

Such a great resource. Highly recommend taking advantage of this. So now back to the Q&A. Another question in the chat. What is the best way to write an essay on why blank University? How, how is, how do you typically advise students in approaching that essay? Fantastic question. And, and we actually have another I’ve done other webinars with CollegeAdvisor.

So that talks about kind of supplement essays and, and the why essay in particular. So for why essays one thing that I first research, right, so why essays are looking for just a higher level of specificity, right? So you wanna be able to communicate, you know, your interest in an institution and show that you’ve done some work to say.

What about the, the course offerings? What about the location? What about the faculty? What about the students? What about the culture? What about the values of an institution and aligns and connects with who you are and, and the, again, the type of student you want to be on campus. So I was first essay research.

So whether it’s looking at websites, doing virtual tours if possible doing in personal campus tours, if possible, doing in-person campus info sessions, following the universities on social media following student-led pages that that are official pages that are ran by universities. Because you really want to try to get more data, right, and more information.

So again, I always say people in place are two great places to start, you know, so maybe you want to apply to a school in D.C. because you wanna work on the hill. Like you have, you have aspirations of working in government, and of course being in a nation’s capital will help you do that. And then also maybe you, there is a certain values, you know, I went to Georgetown, it’s a Jesuit institution, right?

So maybe it’s something about the Jesuit values of being men and women for others, and maybe you have a long record of community service. So that’s why you also want to apply to that school. So they have the location, they have the values that align with you. There also might be a professor that teaches a, a really popular course and you really wanna take a class with that professor, right?

So there are a host of ways to approach it, but thinking about the people there, the place, right? Thinking about the values, the culture is there and they, how they align to you. So that’s how I encourage students to approach the why us essay, focusing on first doing the research, making sure there’s a clear alignment, and being able to speak to what the university offers and what you offer prioritizing.

What about that place is special to you? Thank you. I am was a very comprehensive answer. Thank you so much. Another question is about kind of focus within the essay. So it might be tempting to talk about multiple experiences versus just the one experience. Obviously there is a word limit too on a lot of these essays.

Have you seen students talk about multiple experiences in an as essay prompt response and have done that successfully in the sense that they answered that prompt? Well, or do you really see students focusing in on a single experience, a single moment, a single anecdote? That’s a great question because I, I, I’ve seen a host of kind of ways that students do this.

I’m actually working with a student now who, who’s she’s doing the latter, where they open the essay with a singular experience, but that singular experience triggers additional moments diff additional experiences that all kind of fall in line. So I Let’s using it. I used the shoe example earlier.

I’m, I’m not sure why I’m, I’m thinking so much about shoes. So perhaps there was a, a pair of shoes that have been passed down for generations in your family, right? Maybe no one ever wears the shoes, right? But each tho those shoes from each generation to have signaled and a really important moment in your family and in your life, right?

So maybe when your grandfather had the shoes, you know, you were, you know, This is you first learned to walk or something, and when your dad had the shoes, you, you, you know, entered high school and now it’s your turn with the shoes, whatever. So you, there are opportunities where you can talk about different moments and experiences using some type of singular thread, right?

So I, I see essays done incredibly well where people use an item to talk about for a singular threat, but talk about different moments. So I think there’s ways to successfully do that. We do see assays where people talk about, you know, I came home from school one day and I saw something I never wanted to see again.

And then they talk about that moment. That’s the entire essay, right? But then we also have students who talk about, you know, that those pairs of shoes that their grandfather owned and their dad owned and now they own, and what has happened in each of those moments that were significant or informed their life.

So the short answer, you can do both. I see them done incredibly well. You just want to make sure if you do talk about different moments, that there is a common thread that helps us stay on track, that that flows throughout the essay and that con continues to remind us of, of what you’re trying to say and the experience you’re ultimately trying to to communicate to the admissions officers.

Great. Thank you so much. Time for a few more questions here. This one is right in your area of expertise, Aya. There’s a, a note in the chat about using trauma experiences in essays and whether or not students should consider writing admissions essays on. Traumatic experiences like the ones listed in the chat, do you have any thoughts about this?

I know again, this is an area of study for you. Yeah, that’s a great question. And I was trying to see if there were, when they say specific ones, if there was actually specific types of trauma that they, they could, I could I list some for you that I have in the chat. So bullying, harassment, especially based on race, gender, nationality, or other factors of identity.

Does that help? Yes. Perfect. Thank you so much. That’s a fantastic question. Thank you so much for our friend. An asking that question. So Here’s the story. You know, I, what I tell young people and what I hear from the young people that I, I research and study is their assumption is that they need to talk about trauma in their essays.

This is particularly for students who are racial minorities or immigrants or from a low income first generation backgrounds. So students who are underrepresented often kind of feel like they, they need to talk about it. I don’t think you need to talk about it. I don’t think you have to talk about it.

However, if you want to talk about an experience or an event that you feel like that was transformative, that happens to be about something that you deemed traumatic. Then write about it. I just don’t want you to feel that you have to do it and that you owe or a university deserves your trauma in pain.

Right? So particularly moments of kind of racial violence, bullying, I’ve read essays about that. I know my colleagues have read essays about that. It is a, a reality for a lot of young people, unfortunately, in this country and, and, and elsewhere. So if you want to tell a story that you feel like was so consequential and so important and has shaped who you are and the person you are, and the person you want to be, and will be, Then by all means write about it.

But as I said earlier, I do want everyone to always be mindful of, you know, the stories of telling about themselves. What happens once they disclose certain things about their identities and backgrounds? You know, if it is of, if, if students write about harm in particular ways, universities do have responsibilities in some cases to report certain things as mandated reporters.

So I just want you to be mindful about what you’re disclosing. But I have seen a lot of successful essays where students are talking about very difficult moments in their life. I just want to again, reiterate that it, that you do not have to write about trauma or struggle that you don’t owe a university or institution you’re paying or struggle.

And it’s ultimately up to you. You decide what you want to share. Thank you so much. That was really, really helpful, Aya. And I, we really appreciate your insight. Time for a few more questions. This we talked about beginning an essay. How would you end an essay in an effective way? I would just say, be in and just write a period.

No, I’m joking. Yeah, this is in the essays are hard. I find ending my, my articles very difficult. It’s like, I’ve literally said everything, please don’t force me to write a conclusion paragraph. So there are a number of ways that students do it. So sometimes you’ll see the pattern where people talk about something at the end, at the beginning of an essay.

Then they’ll have, of course those that kind of filler information in those paragraphs in between. And then they’ll revisit the topic that they, or the idea that they shared in the initial. So so, and then you have students who talk about, who use that conclusion to talk about lessons learned. I think I, I actually recently looked at my college personal statement.

And I talked about, I was, my, my conclusion was like, you know, through these experiences, I am now this person and I’ve grown, and when I go to college, I’m gonna be this even stronger person. So I took that approach. So thinking about you know, communicating how you’ve grown, lessons learned again, or some students might repeat.

So if you use a quote or a certain word and, you know, say if you started an essay, you know, as a child, my favorite, my favorite word was no. You know, say that was it. If that’s the first line of your personal statement, as a child, my favorite word was no. You can end the essay and say, you know, my word, my new favorite word is yes.

Or I no longer say no as much or I still love and now, now I’m 18 and my favorite word is still no. So there’s a way to, you know, repeat or harken back to something you said in that intro that could be really fun and creative. So it’s really up to you. Again, I like the ones that, you know, kind of harken back to what they said, cuz it’s like, oh look at this full circle moment.

But also lessons learned, you know, how you’ve grown. You know, a lot of students would use that conclusion paragraph to do that. And again, this is a personal statement. There is some flexibility on the structure, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal conclusion. In conclusion comment, you know, you don’t have to do that traditional you know, high school kind of version essay format to think, you know, so, but just think about how can you tie this up.

Making sure that the lessons learned or the motivations are clear. So you just wanna put that, you know, that bow, you wanna tie that bow rather and just try to wrap it up so it just makes sense and that it completes that story that you’re telling. So just think about it in that way. How are you completing this story?

That, so that would be my, my recommendation. Wonderful. One more question to wrap up the evening. And again, I do wanna encourage those whose questions are not answered to take advantage of the consultation opportunity on the slide here. Sorry, I just had one. How would you advise a student who feels they don’t have this really, you know, Iconic story to share or traumatic experience, for example, something that’s not really kind of sticking out to them in their mind, they’re saying to themselves. I know that we talked about this a little bit. I already, but to end here, how would you advise a student who just kind of doesn’t feel like they have anything to write about?

Yeah. That is a question I get actually quite often. And I, it’s important for us to all remember that we all have something significant about us. We are all distinct. We all have backgrounds, identities, and experiences that make us who we are and that shape us, right? So you do not have to talk about something traumatic.

And I, and I cautioned this earlier, that don’t misrepresent your life. Don’t try to make something up. I just want you to, you know, think about Just kind of like, who are you? Like what makes you, you? And it could be anything from your, maybe you have a special hair color, maybe you have a, a favorite book or a character.

Maybe there’s a certain interest you have. I mean, there is something that is special about who you are. And again, in this case, I would encourage that person to talk to a a friend or a counselor or a teacher, or even a parent or a sibling and say like, Hey, what do you think is special about me?

What do you think makes me who I am? What do you think? Like, how would you describe me in three words? You know, that’s where you phoned a friend and give some additional support. Because I think it’s sometimes it’s very difficult for us to write about ourselves. And I want you to focus less on trying to stand out, trying to be unique, and just focus on you, right?

Because you and your own right, you’re a distinct person. And then I encourage you to take a look at those, again, those common common app essay prompts, those six that exist, and just see what, what pops out to you. You know, who motivates you, who inspires you? What’s your favorite book? What’s your favorite color?

Why? And really begin to think through you know, through some, you know kind of jotting down ideas through some brainstorm. So I don’t want you to overthink it. You are special. There’s something unique about your lived experience, even if you can’t pin it down yet. And I I also encourage you to, to solicit the advice and help a friends in your community and your network, because I think also they can really help you kind of generate some ideas about how to tell your story in a way that aligns with your personality and, and aligns with who you are.

Wonderful. Thank you so much, Aya. And so with that thank you for everyone for coming out tonight and thank you to our panelists, Aya, for a really wonderful presentation. Thank you. And comprehensive overview. That is the end of our webinar. We had a really great time telling you about crafting your story effective strategies for college essays, and here’s our June webinar series for reference.

Have a great night. Thanks Aya. Thank you.