Editing Your Supplemental Essays
Ready to write and edit your supplemental essays? Get tips and tricks with CollegeAdvisor.com.
Former Admissions Officer Aya Waller-Bey will share her insider knowledge on how to edit your supplemental essays during a 60-minute webinar and Q&A session.
In this webinar, you’ll have all your questions answered, including:
- When can I do to write a great supplemental essay?
- How long should I spend writing and editing my supplemental essays?
Come ready to learn and bring your questions!
2022-10-17 – Editing Your Supplemental Essays
Hi everyone. Welcome to tonight’s webinar. My name is Anesha Grant. I am a Senior Advisor at CollegeAdvisor and I will be your moderator this evening. Tonight’s webinar is Editing Your Supplemental Essays, um, to orient everyone to the webinar timing before we get started, our presenter will share, tips, resources, and guidance, and then we will open up the floor to your questions in a live Q&A on the sidebar.
You can go ahead and download our slides under the handouts tab and you could start submitting questions in the Q&A tab. Please definitely keep your questions in the Q&A tab. And yes, the session will be recorded, um, along with again the slides being available to you in the handouts tab. Now let’s meet our presenter Aya Waller-Bey.
Hey Aya. Hi. Good evening or morning or afternoon everyone. I am Aya Waller- Bey. I am a former admissions officer working with CollegeAdvisor. And just a little bit about me, I, I attended Georgetown University for undergrad, where I also worked as an admissions officer and coordinator of multicultural recruitment.
Um, after Georgetown, I went on to get my Master’s in the philosophy of education at the University of Cambridge in England. And I’m currently pursuing my PhD in sociology at the University of Michigan, where I also study college admissions, specifically the college admissions essays. So this is a very salient, um, topic for me and I’m looking forward to talking to you all about supplemental essays and answering your.
Thanks, I, I’m excited for today as well cuz I’m in the thick of it with my students around supplemental essays and so I’m looking forward to getting some maybe tips and, and nudges from you as I kind of go back into editing this week. Uh, but before we get started, we just wanna know what grade level everyone is in.
So we also let us know what year you are. It would help us, um, to make sure we’re pointing the conversation in the direction that would be most beneficial to the folks on the call.
All right. I do you have a favorite supplemental essay question as we wait for the. Do I have a favorite supplemental, uh, essay question. Um, my favorite supplemental essay questions are ones that ask how you would contribute to the diversity of a campus community. I’m always interested to see how students respond to that.
I think it’s, it gives a lot of opportunity to talk about all that student is and brings. And I think those are always quite fascinating. That’s, that’s my favorite. That’s interesting. I like that answer. I’m, I’m in the middle of trying to write a few of those with my students or help my students write a few.
So yeah, it is a challenging and interesting question. Right. We will go ahead and close our poll and I will just let you know I am, before I go off that about 22% of folks are in 11th grade. 73% of folks are in 12th grade, which makes absolute sense. Yes. Um, 2% or others. So I imagine that there might be some parents or, um, supporters in the audience.
Alright, well I will take, I will step out. I’ll be back for the Q&A I, Uh, you can take it away. Awesome. Well, hello everyone again. We’re gonna get started. So, um, so we did, we as a CollegeAdvisor did conduct a Supplemental Essay webinar, which will also be available on our website, and I know Anesha can talk a little bit about that later as well.
So here we’re gonna kind of dive into editing supplemental essays, but naturally before we do that, I’m gonna give you just a quick overview of what supplemental essays are, just in case you missed our last webinar. So supplemental essays. They invite students to write about a variety of topics, often using school specific prompts.
So unlike the personal as essay or personal essay or the college essay, supplemental essays are required by only some colleges and universities and are used to highlight fit, right? So used to, uh, demonstrate your alignment with a specific university, college major, et cetera. These essays should tell the college something that they don’t already know about you and give them deeper insight into how you think and approach problems.
These are also usually shorter than the personal statement, but not always. So you might find those 250 word essays, which are quite popular, but some universities also give unlimited word, uh, restrictions and some say 650 words for supplemental essays. So they do vary, but typically they are shorter than the college personal statement.
So the purpose of the supplemental essays, again, these essays highlight why a student might be a good fit for a university based on their academic, social, and post-graduate interest. You know, these universities, I mean these essays can emphasize your why, you know, why you desire to attend, you know, a specific university, you know, your creativity, your personality.
And also, and this is very important, your ability to write clearly and concisely. As I mentioned in the previous slide, those essays can be much shorter than, uh, a personal statement. Sometimes they can be 250 words, sometimes they might be 50 words, sometimes they are 10 words. So you really have to know how to be concise in your writing.
Wouldn’t responding to supplemental essays?
So our supplemental essays required in a college application. Again, not all universities require them. Um, and if a school list is supplemental essay prompt on their application. As optional, you should almost always respond. And we put almost always, because there are some optional essays that ask students to respond to specific challenges that they may have, uh, uh, encounter.
And you, I think particularly in the terms of like covid, there are some additional C impact essay questions that are often found on the common application in other university specific applications. So if that doesn’t relate to you at all, you don’t necessarily have to respond to that. But if there’s an optional essay that says, Tell us a little bit, little bit more about you, you should respond to that, you wanna take advantage of all that retail.
And again, the university is going to see, you know, your extracurricular activities, your personal statement, your grades, your test scores, if they require them. Um, and the essay is really one of the few components on the application where a student gets to speak directly to the admissions officer. So you really wanna take advantage of any opportunity to speak directly to an admissions officer.
So what kinds of questions are asked? So, supplemental essays, and you all probably know this, we have a lot of seniors on the call. They vary. Widely. Um, they often, you know, correspond with the culture and the quirks of colleges, universities. So they might kind of show, you know, little traditions that they may have, or some universities are known to have a certain level of quirkiness or certain traditions and cultures, and that what, that’s what often universities might use these supplemental essays for.
So the kinds of questions you have are the why school essay, the extracurricular essay, the community essay, the idiosyncratic essay, the challenge essay, and the short answers. So those are some of the. Questions that are often found in the supplemental essays, or rather yet the types of prompts often found in supplemental essays.
Now we won’t go through all of these again. We, we covered them at length in some of our previous, uh, webinars about supplemental essays. But through these I’ll show you, um, you know, what, how to respond to the particular type of prompt and also what are some tips to edit supplemental essays if you’re working on them in this particular instance.
So, I see we have a poll, So Anesha, do you wanna take it away? Yeah, yep. Sorry. Um, I was coming back on. Uh, so yeah, we wanna give you just a quick break. So let us know where you are in the college application process. I imagine with a lot of our seniors, um, that y’all might be right in the middle of this process.
So you actually answered one of the questions I was thinking about, just how optional are the optionals and, um, not really . Um, you should do it if you have something unique and important to share is what I took away from. Yes. Yeah. . Um, alright, well thanks y’all for letting us know where you are in the application process.
It is a bigger spread than I was expecting. Um, about 6% haven’t started, which makes sense. Um, 17% are still reaching, researching schools. 40% are working on essays. So again, this is probably a timely conversation. 20% are getting their materials together and shout out to the 16% that are almost done. We hope you make it to January 1st with less stress.
Okay? Otherwise, Alright, we will get back to the session. Yes, thank you. And I just wanna ensure those folks who are still earlier in the process, it’s okay. You have time, you can do it. It’s not all, you know, hope is lost. So it’s okay if you’re still in the earlier parts of the application process. You have plenty of time, especially if you’re not applying early action or early.
All right, so editing your supplemental essays. So things to think about for, especially for those working on these essays as far as how to edit them, right? So you want to make sure you know, is the essay clearly addressing the selected topic or prompt? I always encourage students, especially when those essays require shorter responses to when in doubt answer the question.
You don’t want to use all of the flowery and fluff that you might use in a personal statement where you have 650 words for those prompts. You want to get to the point, you know, admissions officers wanna make sure you can answer the question and they’re asking you these questions for specific purposes.
You wanna make sure the college essay is well organized. Again, I, I’ve seen some students who really leaned into the creativity so much that you lose the traditional flow. Um, you lose the point, you lose the story. And I, again, you want to make sure you’re answering the questions specifically in the supplemental essay, right?
You wanna include supporting details, examples, and, and adults. So a popular expression that I often use with my students, and we often say here in CollegeAdvisor, is that you wanna show,
I’m a hard working student. You want us to show us how your hard working student give as an example, give us an anecdote, right? You want to stick to the topic Again, you only have this amount of time to really answer or space rather to answer the question. So you really wanna stick to the topic, okay? If it’s asking you about your favorite extracurricular or sport, you know, and if you want to do it when you, you know, matriculate into a university, you sort of start talking about your favorite food, you know, if, especially if it’s not relevant to your, you know, your favorite club or activity.
Okay? So you want to stick to the topic. Do you use proper punctuation of capitalization? That’s a no brainer. You always wanna proofread, you always wanna have, if you can’t someone to look over it. Maybe you’re advisor, a teacher that you trust, a parent, but you wanna make sure you are punctual, uh, using the appropriate punctual, uh, punctuation in capitalization.
And this is specific, you know, I’ve seen students, you know, not capitalize the first letter of university names, right? So when you want to make sure you even have those basics, um, down, do you follow the work? How, again, Universities often have very strict supplemental essay word, uh, requirements. It could be 10 words, it could be 500 words, it could be 250, but you want to make sure you’re sticking to the word count.
You, you don’t want your essay to be cut off, right? You don’t want universities to stop reading, you know, and miss an entire paragraph because you decided to go over the word. So you want to stick to the word count. That’s very important. So as I mentioned earlier, one of the popular kind of, um, supplemental essays is the why school essay.
So I’ve been editing essays for my students for. It feels like forever, but several months now. Right. And what are the harder essays often to write is the why school essay? It’s often harder because it requires you to be very specific. Okay. It, you know, you have to research majors and faculty programs and community based learning opportunities.
You, you have to talk about why the school, you know, I often tell my students, people in place. So what about the people and what about the place makes this school compatible with your interests and professional interests? Right. You wanna talk about, or at least show that there’s an awareness of some traditional values.
And then again, extracurricular activities including sports and service related experiences that align with your interests. Right? So it requires you to do a little digging. It requires you to maybe follow those schools on social media if, uh, requires you to perhaps even, uh, ask a student, a current student to talk to you about their experience.
So the why school essay tends to be very difficult. Because sometimes you are given a hundred words to say why you want to go to Dartmouth for an example. So it does require research, and you really have to be concise. So, and, and this again, when thinking about a y essay and you’re trying to edit it again, think about working backwards, right?
You want to think about, you know, what do you want to communicate to the school? What do you want them to know about you? And work back backwards from that, right? You wanna include a strong topic sentence, right? So let me know from that first sentence what I’m about to read again, the supplemental essays often don’t give you a lot of space for that fluff and that extra language, right?
The flowery language. So you really wanna dive in. Consequently, I always encourage students to remove the fluff, especially if you’re hitting a word requirement limit, right? So say there’s some really rich details about yourself that you want to include. Um, but you’re like, I, I’m over 50 words. Go back and look at the fluff and remove that stuff, right?
You wanna ensure the essay prioritizes you and not the school. This is critical, um, when editing your supplemental essay, um, and this is, this is happening quite a bit with some of the students. They provide so many details about the school, right? So they, they, they’ll say things like, I really want to go to, um, University of Michigan, um, um, University of Michigan has these particular schools in Ann Arbor is a really great city and I love, you know, the Wolverines, the football team.
And what they forget to do is talk about themselves. They tell, they tell admissions officers about U of M and the missions officers know about you of them cuz they work there. So tell us how you as a person. Fits with the school. So what do they have? Plus what do you have? Plus, why is it a good marriage?
So don’t spend all the time describing the school to the university. They know about the school, they work there, right? They wanna know about you and how you see yourself at that institution and you wanna have some evidence supporting the conclusion. If you say that, you know, um, you wanna study law, uh, and it has a good law program, you know, how do you, how do you know that, right?
Uh, whether the law program, you know, is known to be the top you in the top 10%, or the students tend to go on and matriculate into law schools and in New York City, and that’s a place you can see yourself working. You know, again, show that you’ve done a little bit of homework. So another popular essay, or supplemental essay is the extracurricular essay.
So the example, you know, please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. Again, in this essay, you wanna illustrate why and how you’ve devoted time to a specific activity. You wanna demonstrate the impact you’ve made, participate in the act. Activity and impact is critical.
You wanna reflect on what you’ve learned. About yourself and if relevant, explain how you will continue to participate in the activity while on campus. Right? So the extracurricular essay is giving you an opportunity to really expound on your activities, right? You get 10 spots in the common app to list your extracurricular activities, that very specific word, and character accounts.
I think it’s 150, right? So sometimes you can’t really get to the meat of what you do in that short amount of time. So a supplemental essay about your extracurricular really gives you an opportunity to do so to expo right on your impact, your motivation, and that’s what you really wanna do when this essay and when you have the opportunity to write this type of supplemental.
So in editing this type of essay, again, strong topic sentence, right? You can’t go wrong. You want the reader to be able to know what they’re about to read in this very short, right? You wanna assure you don’t discuss an activity you write about in your personal statement. So I’ve had some students who have really, uh, amazing experiences in one of their extracurriculars, not sports.
I always tell students, when in doubt, do not write about sports in your personal statement, but students who have had demonstrated, who have demonstrated leadership or sustained engagement and a lot of activities, it could be a dance, it could be a job, uh, whatever it might be. Now those students sometimes write about those in their personal statement.
Even those, it’s on their activity list. If you are gonna write about a specific activity in your personal statement, do not then write about it again in your supplemental essay. This is an opportunity to introduce something new or talk about something different that didn’t already get so much real estate in the, uh, personal statement, right?
You wanna give at least one specific example about your impact. Okay? So how. This organization grown with your presence. What have you led? What have you contributed? What have you learned? It could be quantified like, you know, 25, uh, new members signed up under your leadership. Or it can, or it could be, you know, more qualitative that people have said these things or maybe you won a particular war that highlighted your leadership.
But you wanna talk specifically about your impact. Um, and then again, in thinking about real estate as far as space, you wanna leave out broad statements. Don’t, don’t that don’t highlight your contributions, right? You really wanna show how you made a meaningful impact in how you’ve had sustained engagement.
So those are some tips, uh, to edit that, uh, extracurricular activity.
So the community essay, So I, I, I was asked earlier, which, which is, you know, one of my favorite supplemental essays and the, the community essay or the, the diversity essay is actually one of my favorites. So, you know, an example that a university might have, may have is how would you add to the diversity of the school?
Now diversity is broad. Okay. It could be defined in a lot of ways, I think the natural tendencies to talk about diversity as far as racial and ethnic diversity. But you could talk about geographic diversity. Socioeconomic diversity, ideological diversity experiences or identities that you believe you can bring to a campus community.
Maybe you live in a rural community and the school you are interested in is in a major city, right? That’s a very specific experience that you might maintain. You know, maybe you’ve always lived in a suburbs, right? And now you are, you are interested in a rural campus community. That’s a very specific experience, right?
So talk about these things. Um, you wanna discuss how your lived experiences and identities inform the person you are and the type of. Classmate, roommate, et cetera, you will be. And you know, you really wanna think about what do you bring to the table and why will your presence make the university community a better place?
So sometimes, particularly the diversity essay, I’ve heard students say, I, you know, I’m from a privileged background, You know, I grew up white, middle class. I don’t feel like I have diversity. Right? And again, that’s a very narrow view of what it means to contribute to an environment with your perspectives, your identities.
We all have something to contribute to our various campus communities. So you want to really dig deep and think about what are you doing in your school already? Maybe you’re really big on theater and because of your involvement in theater, you have. Allowed more people to join people from different backgrounds, people with different identities, you know?
So you wanna think about how you will contribute to a community as a student, right? Maybe you have a love for something, right? And you want to extend that to your community. Maybe you wanna start something on a campus that doesn’t currently exist. So you want to talk about how you would add, right? You wanted be the additive.
What? Not only what you will learn from the university, but what you will contribute to your campus community.
Again. So in thinking about this essay, um, you want to, again, I I keep repeating this because it’s important, You want a strong topic sentence. You also wanna defy community or diversity in your own terms. And that was a point I tried to highlight earlier, right? What does diversity mean to you? Right? So oftentimes they’ll give these broad kind of sweeping questions, like the one above, and it’s up to you to interpret that question.
So show them how you’re defining it. You wanna remove cliches that when it comes to these questions, um, we can, we can see a lot of, uh, cliches about be a better person or, um, uh, what’s the hot, uh, the Gandhi quote. Uh, be the change you seek, those types of things. You want to try to avoid those cliches. We see them all the time in admissions.
Um, you wanna review your other essays and think about what you noticed, what you noticed made you stand out or different. So similar talking about that extracurricular activity, uh, essay. Maybe you have really contributed vastly to a campus community program, uh, a, uh, a high school activity, a club, a job.
Um, maybe you have, you don’t have a job, or maybe you, you can’t wor uh, do extracurriculars because you are helping take care of a sibling or a loved one or older relative, right? So you really wanna talk about, um, Think about those experiences and use those as, uh, jumping points as far as how you can talk about what you’ll contribute, right?
So some students, again, are unable to, uh, be involved in a hundred activities because they have to work to help support themselves and their families. Some students really have to come home and be almost a second parent to younger siblings because their parents have to work long hours. Those are meaningful experiences, and through those experiences are important life lessons that you can then contribute, uh, to a campus community, right?
So think about those activities as well. You wanna, again, provide tangible examples, and as I said earlier, you wanna show us, don’t just tell us, right? Show what will this look like. Give us, give us examples, give us antidotes that really make that story shine.
And, you know, so thinking about some final advice, it’s really important that you research. Okay? So when writing particularly supplemental essays, research is critical, um, you want to make sure you can give specific answers, uh, to these prompts. Again, I’m thinking specifically about that. Why, uh, institution essays.
So why Dartmouth? Why Georgetown? Of course, because you’ve never enrolled in those schools. You’ve never been a student there. There’s only so much you can know, right? We, you really don’t a hundred percent know what it’ll be like to be a student There. However, really utilize, again, the social media accounts that schools have that gotten really good about having, um, student takeovers where students are doing like a day in a life.
Uh, I know TikTok is really big, so I know there are students all the time on social media talking about their experiences, and of course you wanna, you. Fact check and look, you know, think about that closely. But there are ways to really do your research from, you know, university websites, student blogs, to really kind of get down to kind of learn a lot.
I always tell students too, sometimes you can just message a student that goes to a school and say, Hey, I’m interested, I just have a few questions. Or, Can you tell me about your experiences? People tend to be very kind and, and really open to talking to prospective students. Um, as I mentioned before, when in doubt, answer the question again.
I can’t emphasize that enough. I read so many essays and I, I I just walk away not knowing what the prompt is. So I should be able to cover the, the prompt, read your supplemental essay and know what you’re responding to. If you cannot do that, you are not clearly answering the question. Okay? It should be very clear.
Uh, another piece of advice when I’m thinking about, uh, prepping or working on those supplemental essays, um, and I know we have some juniors and softwares on the call. You wanna keep a log if you can. It can be a Google. Spreadsheet, it could be in your phone. Uh, keep a log of school details or information that align with your interests.
So as you’re doing your research and you’re like, Oh, I, you know, I’m interested in pre-law, or I wanna be a lawyer, I learned that they have this special program with this law institute, or they work with adjudicated youth. You know, keep those little nuggets down. Cause that, that will really help you as you build these essays.
Again, you wanna avoid repeating details about the school to the school. They already know about their mascot reputation. So tell them about you. Right. So, um, I, I know sometimes we’ll state certain, certain facts about a school to make a connection, so that’s appropriate. Right. But what you don’t want to do is write in an entire essay about, about, you know, save your planning.
University of Michigan, I’m using that cuz that’s where I’m made my PhD. But if you’re apply to U of M. You don’t re want the whole essay to be just about U of M and I don’t know anything about you. If I walk away saying like, Wow, U of M is a really great school, but I don’t walk away saying, Wow, I will be a really good student for U of M.
You’ve told me too much about this school and not enough about you. Right? They’re interested in why are you interested in this school? Right? Not what, what all the thousand things you know about the school. Tell us why you’re interested in that school. You wanna be honest, you want to be specific and you want to proof.
Read cannot emphasize that enough. You wanna, One of the tips I use, especially if you’re working on, um, uh, Microsoft Word, and I think, I don’t know, Google Docs may have this feature. There might be a, a plugin you might use, but you can use the read aloud feature a Microsoft Word to capture correctly spelled words used in the wrong way.
You often tell, tell the story of, um, about a student writing about, you know, they wanted to torture animals and they were really trying to say like, Train, right? Um, so it was correctly spelled, but it was in the wrong context. So you really want to just make sure you proofread, read it out out loud, have someone else read it for you to make sure that you are using the correct, uh, words in the appropriate context.
Awesome. All right. Thank you so much, Aya, that was great. And uh, like I said, I was looking forward to the session and I definitely was taking notes as you were talking. So thank you so much for presenting. Um, that is the end of the presentation, part of the webinar. I hope that you, like I did, found the information helpful and just a reminder that you can download this.
In the link under the handouts tab, we’re gonna move on to the live Q&A. The way that it will work is that I will read the questions that you’ve submitted through the Q&A tab. I will place them into the, um, public chat so that others can see them, and then I will read them aloud so that we can hear I as perspective.
As a heads up, if your Q&A tab isn’t letting you submit questions, you might just have to double check that you were logged in via the link in your email. If it’s not working, you might have to log out, log back in. But we hope that you all are able to, um, submit questions. So let’s dive into the first one.
Um, and you kind of spoke about this and they came up I think when you were, when you were talking about it, but under what circumstances should you include a reference, the topic from your personal statement in your supplemental essays? How do you really balance and separate out those two essays so you’re not repeating yourself?
Well, I mean, the, the person who asked the question said reference, and I think it’s okay to reference the personal statement. Topic. So for an example, um, say that you write about, in the personal statement, this, um, really impactful experience you had like interning at like a law office or something over the summer.
Um, and you talked about what you learned and why it was valuable and et cetera in the growth and all that stuff. And then in a short answer, um, you were asked, you know, what calls, um, is important to you, uh, what motivates you, et cetera. And you talk, you mentioned, you know, I’m really interested in law.
You know, I previously worked at a, a law firm or whatever, and that was important to me. And, and then you start talking. What type, what theme in law, right? So you can, you can reference, you can harken back too. You can signal, please do that if it’s relevant. But you don’t wanna write, you don’t want that second essay to be entirely about working at, in that law office.
You wanna talk about what about the law? You wanna talk, you know, you wanna answer that question so you can, you can reference for sure, but just don’t write in another essay about the same experience, same internship, et cetera that you mentioned in that personal statement. I hope that answers your, It’s helpful cuz I, I know I definitely have some students who feel like if they talk about something, a personal statement, they can never bring it up again anywhere else in the application.
Um, and so I think it’s just talking about it, but talking about it in a different way of presenting new information about it is the, the trick. Um, so somewhat to that topic, um, someone asked you, colleges wants different types of hobbies as extracurriculars or one passion, passionate hobby, showing commitment.
So how do you, if you, I have a few students who write a lot of essays about medicine and every essays about medicine, and they don’t really show that diversity across their supplements. So what would, would it be your advice around balancing that? Well, the advice is if you have, if you participated in 10 activities and seven of them are medical related and three are not, you clearly have demonstrated that you are very much of STEM in medicine.
Right? Um, so I do not encourage students to just start adding random experiences to their resume or going online to research, you know, virtual, um, Uh, community service activities, which I know some students do, just to show like diversity of experience. You want to be honest and you wanna be authentic. So universities will be able to see like, wow, have the students really committed to the medical field?
And maybe you intern at a hospital, maybe you conduct a research, maybe you, you know, um, I don’t know, have a passion project teaching young people about science. You know, So if they’re all STEM related, that’s okay too. However, when you do write your statements, you do want to show the diversity and experiences, and that could be done with similar topics.
You just have, as Anesha said earlier, you need to be able to show the depth and the diversity in these experiences, right? So you, you don’t want the right all, you know, the personal statement and for supplemental essays about working in the hospital. One summer, right? You want to, you know, talk about, okay, you worked in the hospital, um, you made the second essay may be about, um, ano, you know, the robotics team that you work with.
The, the third essay might be about, um, you know, some volunteer work you did, uh, with a, a nonprofit teaching students about stem. So they can all be STEM related if that’s clearly your passion, what you’re interested in. You don’t have to randomly just add things that just don’t align or mix something up, but they, you should not write about the exact same experience in every single essay.
Also, you want to be careful about jargon. I didn’t mention this earlier. Um, there are students who apply to very specific, perhaps vs. MD programs where I think the audience of those essays tend to be people who are working very closely in those disciplines. But generally, when you’re submitting your essay to a, a university, you are not, you don’t have industry experts, um, reading those essays.
So you do also wanna be careful about getting so far in the weeds where someone who does not have that expertise and biology have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about. So you also want to make sure that you are not being so jargony and using jargon that distracts from the larger message as well.
That’s such a good way of e explaining that, the jargon piece. Cuz I just, I kept telling one of my students, you have to dumb this down for me. Like, I am not, I do not have a degree of medicine. I wanna understand your, your, your research and make sure you’re presenting it thoughtfully. But, um, but yes, I will, I think using jargon is the better way of phrasing it, minimize using jargon.
Um, the next question I wanted to ask, cuz you did raise this and, and I think folks have heard this in different spaces. When and in what context is it best to write about sports when most say do not write about sports? So when is the appropriate time for student to write about them? Okay, so sports, Listen, I’m, I’m not a fan of sports essays.
Uh, in my own research, I interview admissions officers from private universities from across the country. They don’t like sports essays. I mean, I think in the personal statement, I strongly discourage writing about sports unless it’s very. A very unique sport. Something very, you know, less common. You know, I, a student who’s doing, uh, participates in roll roller derby, that’s, you know, but I, there are very few instances, we’ve almost seen every sport essay, the tearing of the, the, the leg.
Um, the you, your team was down by 25 points and you shot the winning goal. Um, try trying not for the team and not getting on the team. And then you, So I said a lot to say I tried. I just try to stay away from them. Um, if there is an extracurricular activity essay, As I mentioned, which was, uh, not the personal statement, but that shorter supplemental essay that says, Tell me about extracurricular activity.
You’re, you’ve, you know, spent the most time, or that’s been most impactful for you. If you do wanna talk about how you, you know, you’ve led your soccer team and et cetera, uh, on a supplemental essay, that might be more appropriate. But I, I am, um, I, I try to discourage students from writing about sports when possible.
We’ve, we’ve read them all and it’s, they, no matter how creative you think you are, we, we’ve read it, you are slowly ruining my life. I, there are a couple essays I gotta go back to now. , um, after this conversation, um, uh, this is an interesting question. I’m sure you’ve gotten in a lot of different contexts, but are there essay type?
Like are there essay topics that one should avoid? How personal should I make my essays?
Can you repeat that question one more time for. Essay topics. So if they wanted to talk about, not necessarily in. The, like, why this school essay? But if there are like those open-ended kind of questions for the supplemental essays, what kind of topics should they avoid? So you kind of talk about sports, but I, I think this question is coming from, are there things I should not reveal about myself or how much can I reveal about myself in an essay?
Yeah, just a really, they, you, uh, for that question, whoever asked it, that, that question is becoming increasingly popular. Um, and I’ll say this, and I didn’t say this in my introduction, so I actually research, um, trauma narratives in college, personal statements. So how students talk about trauma or don’t talk about trauma and what the implications are.
Um, you know, there are a few topics that I tell students to, to try to avoid. And it is really hard. I mean, what is politics? And, and that’s a tough one because I know some students are motivated by the political space and that is often why they choose. Um, but you don’t want to be, you don’t want to come down.
So don’t avoid politics essays altogether. Um, cuz because maybe you’re energized around certain political spaces, but you don’t wanna come down so hard on. Like specific political, uh, kind of candidates only because you don’t know who’s reading your essay. So you want to, you want to ensure you are not, um, offending the sensibilities of the person reading the essay because there is a human, not always, but a lot of times, particularly at the top 25 universities, that really selective ones.
So actually more like top a hundred, they’re usually humans reading those essays and those humans have feelings and biases. Right. So that is something to think about, like carefully how you talk about politics and essays. It’s interesting. You also don’t want to be, um, Blatantly offensive. Um, so any phobia you can think about, any ism, you know, racism’s, homophobic, homophobic, like you, naturally it’s not, you know, um, being offensive.
Won’t get you far right, that you will be flagged by the admissions officer. Um, so of course you wanna avoid those things. Um, students often ask whether or not they should talk about mental health if, and that that’s interesting because if someone asked me that 10 years ago, I would say avoid talking about mental health challenges in a college personal statement.
I think in 2022 and beyond university, it’s such a, uh, visible topic. It is such a salient topic. It is affecting so many of us, um, that universities are now almost expecting students to talk about mental health. They have more robust resources for students to support them. And being able to talk about how you navigated these challenges, um, is less taboo, uh, than it was I’ll say 10 years ago, maybe even five years ago.
So I wouldn’t discourage students from talking about mental health. Um, uh, you know, now as much as I would have, um, back in the day. And not to the student’s problem, it’s just the universities often didn’t have. If they don’t feel like they have their resources to, to, to help you be successful when you matriculate, then they’ll say, Oh, we can’t admit this student because we don’t want them to fail.
Right. Um, other topics, um, topics that are often very difficult to read, topics about sexual violence. , um, are very difficult to read for, uh, reasons you all might imagine. Um, and I’ve read essays about those things. The, the admissions officers that I interview have read essays about those. They’re just very difficult to read, frankly.
Um, and you also, you know, one thing I encourage students as a, and, and also in my research, again, you don’t know who’s reading your essays, right? So you don’t know who’s on the other side of that screen or on the other side of that desk. So you wanna be careful, but about what you share and like with whom you’re sharing and like why you’re sharing it, right?
So just know that, um, once you submit your essay, it doesn’t necessarily belong to you anymore. So those stories that you tell you, I want you to be comfortable about someone reading that, right? So if you feel like you don’t want anyone else to see it or read it, you might not want to write about that because admission’s offices work sometimes in groups.
Sometimes in teams. Sometimes your essay is imported to a particular unit, A, a. Department, a specific major, maybe for a scholarship program. So you would just wanna be mindful about that essay, having multiple eyes on it. So if it’s something that you don’t want anyone to see, um, or read, you may want to avoid writing about that.
Um, so I think that’s important. Um, I’ve already talked about sports . Um, um, yeah, again, you, your essay is the college essay is one of the few moments where the, the missions officer really gets to speak to the student. I mean, some schools have interviews, right? Georgetown, my alma mater does. Uh, so you just want to say, what’s your introduction?
You know, you’ll be introducing yourself to the admissions office and you, you know, you want to introduce them in the best way you can. So just think about that when you’re writing supplemental essays or any essay rather. Thank you. Um, I am very fascinated by your research and I would love to, I’m excited to read it when it’s published,
Um, but that’s a separate side note. I think there’s a question that says, can you give us an example of a strong topic sentence for a supplemental essay? I think that’s too specific, so I kind of wanna rephrase it. If, I have some students who wanna start kind of, especially that why this college essay or why, um, with, uh, like a story they want to tell you about.
They wanna paint you a picture and then pull you into it. And then I have other students who are a little bit more direct and say, I wanna go to, um, miss because they have this, this, and this, and this is what I’m interested in studying. From your perspective, which do you think is stronger? Are they the same, Do they do different things?
Like how, what is the effect of a sh Like, what are you, what do you feel is the most effective way to start off one of those? Why this, why this college essays? It’s so, that’s a great question. Cause I have students who do the, the exact same thing. I have students who say, I wanna go to Michigan because of this.
And I have students say, when I first visit, Michigan, my soul came alive, right? . So it’s, it’s, for me, it’s about space. So, which one you have space for, if, if you talking about stepping foot on campus and your soul coming alive means that you don’t then have a space to talk about a particular program or professor you wanna work with, cut that part out.
Um, so for me it’s, it’s more about space. It’s not that like, um, you know, you want to focus on substance when in, when writing those supplemental essays. So you can add personality. I don’t want, I don’t, you shouldn’t sound like a robot. That’s boring, right? But you really want to ensure that you’re answering a question and that you, you can really pack as much detail as possible.
So sometimes it’s more about space, not about actual you. Having additional language. So if you could say, the first time I stepped foot on Dartmouth’s campus, I saw, um, you know, I, I saw students of different backgrounds working together. Like if you can make that observation, but you need to make sure that you were able to really be able to lean in, into like, why that’s important.
Like how does that connect with you and the type of student you want to be on campus. So it’s less about, so you can, in a conclusion, you can use either as a topic sentence, however you want to make sure you don’t take up valuable real estate in those supplemental essays with fluff and descriptive things that don’t really talk about you as a student and why you want to go to that school.
So I, I really think it’s more about space, um, and what you have the space to do and using, you know, you know, if you have 150 words, you don’t really have much time to like, You know, as I, you know, looked online on the online tour and, you know, you really just want to kind of answer the question. So that, that’s my, it’s not a black and white thing.
It really depends on how much space do you have to answer this question. If you have 10 words, you know, you don’t have any time to do that. If you 150 words, you don’t have much time to do that either. 50 might have a little bit to add a little bit of that flare, but it’s all about space. And again, when in doubt, answer the question.
Thank you for that. Um, ultimately just like be strategic and, and be thoughtful about how you need to communicate to each school. Absolutely. Um, and. Speaking to strategy. For those of you who are aren’t in the room, those of you who are in the room who aren’t currently working with us, we know that the process can be overwhelming.
We have a ton of questions and a ton of ways that you are seeking support. So we do have a team of over 300 former admissions officers and experts ready to help you and your families navigate this process in a one-on-one advising session. Um, if you wanna take the next step, you can use the QR code on the side of the screen to schedule a free 45 to 60 minute strategy session with an admissions expert on our team.
During that meeting, we will review your current extracurricular list application strategy and discuss how everything lines up with your college list, and then and outline some tools that you’ll need to stand out in the process. So that is our PSA really quickly for CollegeAdvisor.com. Um, but we will keep it moving forward with the questions.
Um, but take advantage of that you’re all QR code when you can. Um, So you, we’ve been talking about this and you did, you have gotten given some hits to it throughout, but how should, uh, students answer that supplemental questions about adding diversity to the school? I have found, um, my white male students really struggling with this question and trying to get them to think about diversity in different ways.
Yeah, again, that’s a, uh, I have a similar, uh, experience with some students who think, uh, who possess identities that are less, uh, that are a part of the majority of, you know, various identities who often feel like they, they can’t add diversity. But I think that is often because we are defining diversity very narrowly, right?
We are focusing primarily on race, uh, and sometimes social class, uh, or gender, um, in ways that deny us of the complexities of who we are. So I really encourage student to kind of think about, you know, experiences and interest in ideologies that they may. Possess, um, uh, various extracurricular activities that they participated in, areas of growth.
Um, maybe you are, you know, part of like a cur, you know, maybe you are working as a caretaker in your family, or, or maybe you are, um, you know, the, the leader of your softball team, and that has really taught you some really valuable lessons about life. Uh, or maybe you, you’re, you’re not used to being a leader, you know, of much of many clubs and activities.
And from that you’ve learned about what that means to be part of a team. So I think there’s a lot of valuable life lessons and, and values that we all can contribute that will add to the diversity of a campus community. And I think it just requires us to be a little bit more creative and particularly thoughtful about what that looks like.
Um, I know some students who, um, might talk more about ethnic identities or various traditions that they have at, at home, right? So maybe, you know, maybe your family, you know, on Thursday nights you always. You know, order, I don’t know, Jimmy John’s and like that is part of the tradition of your family. It’s not fancy, but it’s something that you do to spend time and then when you get to campus, you wanna create a Thursday night, Jimmy John’s experience.
Right? So I think there’s ways that we can all add our very creative and personal experiences to the diversity of a campus. Um, and I just want us to think more broadly about what that looks like outside of some of those usually more visible markers that we often, um, think about when, uh, discussing diversity.
Yeah, I love that. And I have seen some essays where the diversity question includes the word, how do you build, how do you want to build an inclusive community? Yes. And I’ve tried to take some of my students who struggle with the diversity aspect to focus on the inclusivity of like, what does it mean to be included in a community?
How have people helped you to feel included in a community? What are the active steps you can take to include others? And somehow coming at it, that angle has also I think, helped some students who, who struggle with that, um, as well. I just wanted to add, add that on. Um, I, a student asked, is it okay, I guess they’re talking about the range of topics.
So is it okay if my activities are not exactly related to my attended major? It should, I find a way to connect them to it. So what if my supplemental essays are reading very different from selected major? That’s okay. That’s okay. That’s actually really fun. You know, um, you’re, uh, You can want to study, um, I don’t know, art history and the activity that you, that you talk about is roller derby.
I don’t know. Or extracurriculars, roller derby, that those things are probably not connected. Um, and that’s okay. Um, again, universities really enjoy seeing, you know, how complex and interesting students are. And sometimes things are just random. I dance with a Filipino hip-hop dance team in college and I study sociology, like what on Earth?
Like that was very disconnected. But those were experiences that are also contributed to, to who I am. Um, so that, that’s okay. Um, do not, um, feel like everything needs to. Some students, that’s just how their interests all align with their majors. But if that’s not your, your reality, that’s okay. You would not be, um, you know, you won’t lose points, if you will, in the admissions process because you have what appears to be very diverse, um, interests.
Um, this student is. How can I make the, why this school essay unique to each school so they don’t feel like I’m repeating the same thing, even though I think they want to say the same thing about the area of interest or they wanna pursue. If that makes sense. Well, those schools are gonna be indifferent.
Oftentimes different cities, but different professors, but different programs, but different, um, you know, opportunities. So they shouldn’t be, uh, all the same. I didn’t say this earlier, Um, one thing you can’t, you will be doing for supplemental. And if you’re not already doing so please do this. You are gonna be reusing, you’re gonna be pulling here from there, you know, piecing things together.
You shouldn’t, you know, once you write a few essays, please don’t just keep starting over from zero. Really kind of use them to build upon one another. Okay. Um, but the essays are different, right? So a student saying, you know, they want to go to, you know, NYU Right? Which is a, a large university that doesn’t necessarily have, you know, like a campus, a closed campus, um, even though they want to kind of study law, right?
So, you know, you could talk about the various law opportunities in New York City, um, that’s different from what a student, um, wanting to go to. I mean, the, the things you could speak to for New York City. Uh, and access to Broadway and those things is different than a student wanting, uh, going to Georgetown University, which has more of a closed campus.
It’s in the nation’s camp, uh, capital. Um, the politics and government is very much a part of the culture there. Student Act, uh, activism and civic engagement is very much a part of the campus culture. There’s different professors there. The school of public policy is different. Um, you know, the, the location, uh, as far as proximity to the capital and the White House is very different than a student studying law in New York.
Uh, you know, NYU, so, you know, these, they are different, right? So, and students have different, I mean, schools have different programs and I know in Georgetown there’s a program, uh, the after-school kids program, what they, when they work with like students in the, uh, young people in like, uh, in the criminal justice system, you know, NYU might have a program like that, but it’s not the same program.
Right. So, um, so the un the, the y essay should be different because different schools have, again, different cultures, different campuses, different traditions, different professors. You know, the person working at Georgetown, you know, and the recidivism program is not the same person working at NYU. So you have to do some research because they should be different, right.
You might speak to the same ex. They could be different. Like you could say you wanna study law at both of them. They both have a law program you’re interested in, but the faculty you name are gonna be different. The, the, the partnerships that they have are gonna be different. The proximity to certain, you know, legal spaces, finance law is gonna be different than DC and more political law.
So you can kind of use the same model, but there’ll be different responses because there are very different institutions who have different cultures and. I feel like your answer could be summed up in research. You gotta research the schools to know what they’re each bringing to the table, um, so that you can talk about those things thoughtfully, whether it’s the different classes, but there are structures to your point of you can borrow, you can move, but you gotta research the schools and know the specifics about the schools and make sure that shows up.
Um, uh, a student asked, How much should I focus on my family’s financial status if that was a burden to joining extracurriculars? Is an, is that an okay essay for the extracurricular essay topic? So that’s a really interesting question. Um, Because that type of response can often there is, and I didn’t talk about this in a supplemental essays, but again, we did, or editing supplemental essays.
We did do a, a previous, or I did a, a previous kind of explaining supplemental essays kind of a conversation where I talked about, there is a special question that often asked students if there are special circumstances or something you want to let the university know about is, um, please respond. So something like, you know, financial limitations is, that is an appropriate place to kind of talk about that.
But, um, you could also, I mean, I think I have two minds. Say, if you only could do two activities because you couldn’t afford it for whatever reason, you can either use the extracurricular, um, essay, uh, activity essay to talk about one of those activities. Or, um, you could talk about what you. Instead of that, So say you couldn’t participate extracurr, Lord, I cannot talk extracurricular activities because you, uh, had to stay home.
Talk about what you were doing when you were at home. Right. I think sometimes students think about, uh, forget that we recognize that everyone does not have access to the same resources, uh, and privileges. So if you have to. Talk about that in that essay. If you had to babysit your younger siblings or cousins or relatives, talk about that.
If you had to work as a caretaker for your older relative or grandparent. Talk about that. So again, I’m of two minds. I don’t know what the specific circumstances are, but if it meant you only could participate in one activity, you can write about that one activity, or you can say, I couldn’t do that because instead I was doing this talk about what you were doing instead of it.
But it’s hard to get anything more specific until I don’t have all the full circumstances, uh, for your particular, uh, situation. But I just want you to think about that approach if it applies. No. Yeah. I think, yeah, that’s a very specific situation, but I do think it probably applies to a variety of folks, especially coming out of the.
Um, and I wanted to just add it. Sometimes with students I ask, I have to walk them through their data. Like, cuz I think what college wanna know is how do you spend your time outside of school? Yes. Right. Um, and so if it’s not an extracurricular, let’s just talk about what you do after school. And then it is those responsibilities, those chores that come up that I think folks aren’t always thinking about.
Mm-hmm. , Um, cause I to go to school, like, No, you do more, you do more than that. Um, if I wanna talk, uh, the next question is if I wanna talk about the programs that I’m interested in for a school, but I’m not sure about a major, is it okay to talk about programs that are not necessarily under the major that have chosen or selected?
Wait, so to clarify, you don’t have a major or you do that? That. What’s the question? They’re not sure about their major, but they feel like they need to, they have selected one on the application , but they wanna talk about all the different programs that may not be under the, the major they selected. So, Okay.
Um, that’s interesting. So some, so some universities, and again, I keep using Georgetown cause I went there and I worked there. Um, so I know it very well. Uh, if you apply to the College of Arts and Sciences, um, you can choose psychology, but you’ll be read as undeclared or undecided. And you are not required to declare a major until your sophomore year.
So it really doesn’t matter. Some schools, however, you are applying to a specific program and you are read by, you know, their capacity to support students for a specific major. So if you are applying to a particular program, uh, and I think this is really, uh, common with stem, um, related programs, um, it’s if you are gonna identify a major, even if you, you know, don’t a hundred percent know.
Don’t, you don’t wanna just jump around and look like you just don’t know exactly what you are interested in. Um, again, there are some programs. I mean, think about Brown, right? Or the culture is, uh, it’s a little more free thinking. Uh, you don’t, you can create a major, you don’t have to declare a major. You can build your own major.
That’s okay. Right? But if you’re applying specifically, you know, for a STEM related, uh, program, once you select that box, you are also entering one of the most competitive applicant pools, right? That the university has just because of how competitive STEM majors are at most universities. So, I don’t encourage you to, you know, Say, choose biology and then start talking about, But then I’m also interested in computer science, but I’m also interested in psychology.
But then I’m also interested in special education, but I’m also, you know, I, I discouraged that for sure. You can say the social sciences, you know, really appealed to me. You know, I am still interested, you know, I’m still learning about, you know, the nuances between anthropology and sociology, but I really enjoy, you know, something in the social sciences.
So if there’s a, like a broader discipline, like in the social sciences maybe where there’s some overlap, but you don’t want to seem so scattered that it just looks like you are just. Closing your eyes and just picking things. So, uh, if you’re not required to, like, um, I mean some schools really kind of require you to select a major, um, but that’s not always the case.
So I also would do your research to figure out, like if I select a major, does that mean that I’m automatically admitted to that major or are they asking for that major because they want to know what my general interests are. And I’ll tell you this, do not be afraid. You, your parent or whoever, to call the university and ask, Hey, I’m interested about studying psychology.
Does that mean if I selected on my application that I, I, I’m automatically a psychology major and I can’t study anything else? You can ask those questions. I call universities all the time on behalf of my students asking questions about, you know, what does it mean to be first generation for your school?
Or what, you know, So it is, it’s okay to call the university and ask as well. So I, I always encourage students to feel empowered to do that, um, to get the questions, to get the specific answers to the questions that they have about their applications. Yeah, for sure. Um, I will say, I think one of my students it talk for an additional kind of perspective on it.
I had a student who talked about wanting to go into business but then talked about wanting to pursue a certificate. Like the school specifically has a certificate program and their other area of interest. And so yes, I wanna go into business, but I’m also going to think about pursuing the certificate program.
So I think if there are other things, just have to be specific about what those other things are and if possible, make a connection back to the, to the primary piece. Um, she, you know, she wants to do. Computer science with business. And so obviously there are a lot of entrepreneurship, tech opportunities that she could explore from there, even if she changes, um, down the road.
Um, so just 2 cents to that. Um, one question I guess on like a little logistical, do colleges typically use the same supplemental essay topic or questions year over year? Like, if I’m a junior, can I rely on this being the same question next year? Uh, maybe sometimes , it really depends. It’s hard to say.
Generally they, they tend to be quite similar. Uh, some schools, I, uh, is it University of Chicago? Uh, they’ll , right? You already know what I’m talking about. Where they actually like, uh, gather questions from, you know, you know, students. Um, and so they, they vary year by year. Could be like, if you were a tooth, what would you say?
You know, . Um, so sometimes you can go on and see like, Oh, wow. They still ask the same question, but that’s not always. It, it’s not always like that. So you can always just get started. Um, you know, you can look on an essay, uh, Quest, the websites rather, and see what types of essay questions they’re asking.
Some change every year and some kind of stay around the same, but it really depends. The University of Chicago, Yeah, it definitely changes in the tho on the side of many a high school counselor, I’m quite sure. Um, they actually have my favorite question, which is where is Waldo really? And I, I did not answer that question, but I feel like that is a very, that would be a compelling or interesting, at least for me,
Um, but yeah. Uh, so the last question I’ll ask, I think kind of takes us back to where we started, but someone asked earlier, how important are these essays to the success of your application? Um, and someone also asked who’s reading, who’s reading these essays? Who’s reading them and how important are they?
Um, just I guess take us full circle. Yeah. So if, um, If a university asks you to answer a question, you want to answer it the best of your ability. They are a part of the application. And again, um, the supplemental essays, those tend to be more common with, um, the more selective and highly least select of universities.
Um, so they are a part of a larger kind of a strategy to really try to distinguish applicants, um, to really build out a class with diverse interest and experiences. So you want to answer them. They are important. I do always say this in every single webinar I’ve given regardless of the topic, that the most important aspect of your college application will be your high school transcript.
So if you are grades are not, uh, competitive, then your essay, you know, being outstanding. You know, they won’t admit you because of an amazing essay. You know, you have to have, make sure you have a competitive academic profile. And as far as who’s reading them, the college admissions officers are reading them.
Sometimes faculty from various units are a part of committees. Uh, sometimes schools employ external readers on outside readers. So there’s a various, uh, group of people who are admissions counselors, external admissions readers, admissions officers, um, that are reading your applications. Uh, and then when in doubt, you can always call ’em and ask, Hey, who’s actually reading those essays?
I’m just curious. So, you know, it never hurts to ask . I love, I love ending on the note of self-advocacy. So yes, you can always call, you can reach out. The schools are open to you in some way, shape or form for you to get answers to your questions. Um, and again, always leverage resources like CollegeAdvisor.com.
Thank you everyone. Coming out tonight and thank you to Aya for your time and the wholeness in today’s presentation. Um, that is the end of our webinar. We hope you gain some tips and strategies for editing those supplemental essays. Also, we hope you will join us for our other webinars this month. This week we’ll have Acing the Common App Activity Section on the 18th, Securing Strong Letters of Recommendation on the 20th and Writing About Extracurriculars in Your College Essays.
So a deep dive into that for folks who are wondering about that tonight. That section will be on the 25th. Um, hope to see you soon. But until next time, have a great evening everyone. Take care.