Getting Started: Essay Brainstorming
Gain the tools you need to identify strong essay topics for your general and supplemental college essays.
2021-09-01 Getting Started Essay Brainstorming
[00:00:00] So, hi everyone. Welcome to the CollegeAdvisor’s webinar on Getting Started Essay Brainstorming. To orient everyone with the webinar timing, we’ll start off with a presentation. Then answer your questions in a live Q and a on the sidebar. You can download our slides and you can start submitting your questions in the Q and a tab.
Um, next, uh, let’s get you to meet her presenter. I’m gonna, you can’t see her video right now. She actually has a flash flood, but she’s still gonna be with us via audio. Um, yeah, if you want to give a quick introduction to me. Hi, everyone. Sorry about my virtual presence. Um, I tried to connect with the camera, but it didn’t work out unfortunately, but my name is Tamara.
Um, I graduated from Georgetown university, um, in 2019. Um, and I majored in international history at the school for in service. Um, I’ve since gone on to complete a master’s degree in human rights as well. And I’ve been with c CollegeAdvisor for about a year. [00:01:00] Um, prior to that, I also worked in college advising with another company for about two years.
Okay. So the subject of. Our webinar today is, um, getting started with your essay brainstorming. Um, so I’m just going to go through some of the more common essay types that you will encounter, um, and, um, share some examples. Um, and, um, I will ask Lily to let me know if my audio is not, um, cooperating. So my apologies in advance.
Um, so one of the. As Izzy you will encounter is the common app essay, which is also commonly referred to as your personal statements. Um, your personal essay, they’re kind of different ways to, to talk about it, depending on who you ask. Uh, but this is going to be the major essay that you will write, um, that the majority of universities will ask of you.
Um, it will be 650 words. Um, [00:02:00] and if you are applying to a school that uses the common app, um, you will have seven prompts to choose from, and you can find this from online. Um, they. Sometimes vary year to year, but for the most part, they stayed pretty consistent for the last four or five years. Um, at least for as long as I’ve been in this, uh, college advising space, um, you will also have supplemental essays for some university.
So this will be questions that are specific to the college you are applying to. In addition, usually to your common app essay, um, they will vary in length anywhere between 150 words to 500 words, sometimes more, um, and prompts will also vary. Uh, but there’s some common themes that I will touch on later in the webinar.
And lastly, you might also come across additional essays if you are applying for merit scholarships. So this could be or scholarships that are specific to a college or private scholarships. Um, in any case, if you’re applying to those, um, there would likely be at least one additional essay you will have to write okay.
Onto the next [00:03:00] slide, on the personal statement versus supplemental. So for your personal statement, um, this is going to be, um, you can think of it as a, sort of a big picture essay about who you are. Um, what are some important characteristics or values that you hold? Um, and the college admissions panel or reader will really look to this essay to better understand sort of how you tick what’s important to you.
You know, these could be a variety of different aspects of your personality. It could be talking about a value. So for example, um, if you are someone who is really passionate about community service or for whom family, um, is very important, that’s, those are examples of values. Um, you could also use your personal statement to share a pivotal event or experience in your life.
So, uh, for instance, if you’ve moved to town schools or in countries, um, during high school, right before high school, that could be a pivotal experience that you choose to, um, write your essay about. [00:04:00] Um, you could also write about, um, any aspect of your identity, so that could be cultural identity, spiritual, religious identity, ethnic identity.
Um, it could be your identity as an athlete, as a musician. Um, so anything that you deem to be an identity is kind of a valid example of what you could share in your essay. Um, In terms of supplemental essays. Um, as I mentioned, there will be a variety of questions, um, that you will encounter, but some common themes include your motivation for applying to a particular college or a particular major.
So, you know, they will ask you, for instance, why are you applying to hail? Why are you applying to the university of Maryland? So why do you choose us as opposed to all the other colleges that are out there? And similarly, why are you wanting to study biology, math, English, whatever it may be. Um, what compelled you to choose this, this subject?
These lessons could also ask you about your general qualifications. So prior interest in the major you’re planning to choose or an experience in a subject, um, extracurricular experience, [00:05:00] personal experience, um, you could also see some supplemental essays that, um, ask you about your plans for the future.
So those could be kind of first to medium term plans for examples. What clubs would you join? How, um, how will you get involved in your, in your community, what your study, um, and it could be more long-term plans. So kind of, how do you see this degree contributing to your future career, um, and where you see yourself after college, and finally, um, how would you touch on this, but, um, how will you contribute to the campus?
Community is a prompt that is very common. Um, and it can take a variety of different angles. Sometimes it will look at it from the angle of diversity. So sort of what unique, um, experiences or identities do you bring to campus that will. Um, enrich the experience for everyone who attends and it could be more sort of straightforward.
Um, as I mentioned, how do you plan to get involved, um, on campus, beyond just attending classes? [00:06:00] Great. All right. Next slide. On examples of supplemental essay prompts. So, um, let me just go through now, some of the examples that I mentioned and share a little bit more detail about, um, what those will be and how you could approach them, um, if, or rather when you encounter those, when you apply to college.
So the first one is I mentioned is why do you want to attend a specific school? Um, and I try to include. Uh, an example from a real university from 2021, not all colleges have updated all of their supplemental essay prompts for this admission cycle, but the majority of them have, so these are up to date.
So an example of a why school XSA is one from duke. So as you can see on the slide, um, it asks you to share why you consider duke a good match and then asked you if there’s anything particular about Dick’s offerings that attracts you. So this is a very classic example of the way that the separate question would be formulated.
[00:07:00] Obviously then Haim will differ, but the essence of it will be the same. And we’re asking you to provide specifics specific details about that university that appealed to you. So not just to say that it’s a great school, but to provide examples of how the school is a good match for you. The second question in a very similar vein is why do you want to study a specific major?
So say you want to be, you want to major in history, which is what I majored in. Um, you will want to, uh, justify your interests. Now it’s important to remember that when you’re asked about your majors, it’s not necessarily a hard and fast rule that you will major in what you say, you plan on majoring in and that’s okay, no one will hold you to this.
But when you do apply, you need to have some sort of explanation justification as to why you’re interested in the subject matter. So this admission cycle, according to the Mellon, asks you to explain what passionate inspiration led you to bloody to [00:08:00] choose this area of study. I’m getting a message that there is an issue with the audio potentially.
Um, Lily, can you hear me okay? Yeah. I’m your audio cut out for like a second, but we can still hear you. So I will continue that case. Um, I think we can continue to the next slide. All right. Um, but on the next slide, fantastic. Um, so, uh, another common prompt, as I mentioned, we’ll ask you about your extracurricular activities, um, extracurricular activities, um, as broadly defined as you can think.
So it doesn’t necessarily mean a school club. It can mean an activity that you engage in outside of school. So maybe in your community, maybe you’re helping out in a family business. Um, maybe you’re helping out with siblings or, or supporting your family in some way. Maybe you have a job. So all of those are examples of extracurricular activity.
So don’t just think, you know, um, afterschool newspaper or a school sport, [00:09:00] um, at MIT and example of this type of question, um, as you can see on the slide is. Tell him tell him about something you do simply for the pleasure of it. So that’s kind of a fun twist on extracurricular activity. Um, taking it even beyond sort of the realm of what do I do?
Um, that’s an addition to my schoolwork too. What do I do for fun specifically? So that can be anything from, you know, having your own beauty, YouTube channel or knitting, any sort of hobby. Um, you can discuss in a type of question, some of them are going to be more straightforward where they will ask you to discuss, uh, extracurricular activity in school or outside of school.
But, um, sometimes you get more flexibility, um, next prompt or an example of a supplemental prompt, um, is how will you contribute to your campus community? Um, and. UNC this coming cycle, um, is asking you how you could [00:10:00] actually, what you would actually change, how you would better your community and why it’s important to you and how will you work to sort of implement it.
And the idea behind these questions is to assess, um, that you have, that you’re a team player that you and or that you have leadership skills and that you have clear ideas about issues that are important to you, whether that’s in your hometown or on your future campus, which will become your home community for four years.
And that you’re able to articulate why something is meaningful and important to you and, um, how you would want to work to prove it, essentially, which is. Which is how UNC phrases it. Um, and the last category is a fun one. So this is going to be your creative prompts or a grab bag. Uh, it’s hard to summarize what you will come across here simply because, you know, by nature of this category, um, it can vary, but these are the ones, the prompts that will ask you to be a little more creative, to have a little bit more fun with it.
Um, university of [00:11:00] Chicago is infamous for their essay prompts because they’re always quite funky. Um, one, um, infamous example is what’s so easy about PI. Um, I applied to the university of Chicago back in 2015. When I applied to colleges, I to this day, cannot frankly tell you where they get some of these questions and why they asked them, but they’re always very fun and engaging, and they kind of get your creative juices flowing, which is a welcome change of pace.
After, you know, you’ll have turned out many why college X, a supplemental. And another, uh, creative prompt. It’s a little bit less say more conventional is from GW. Um, which asks you, you know, if you could change the course of history, what would you change? Um, they used to have a fun prompt asking you what historical figures it would have dinner with.
Um, I remember it because I, when I applied, I, I chose that one as my supplemental essay prompts. Um, I think we can go to the next slide [00:12:00] now. Yeah. Great. So that was a great overview of a few different, like really common essay prompts that you might be seeing and also the different I see that you should be planning for.
Um, so next I have a question for every in the audience. Um, so just to have a, uh, do a quick check-in, have you guys started brainstorming for your college equities and you guys can let us know in the poll, um, if you started for your personal statement or your supplemental essays or your scholarship essays, um, and then also it’s totally okay.
If you haven’t started yet, um, this webinar will help you basically figure out how to get started. Um, and also answer any questions that you guys might have about getting. All right. So I’m looking at the pool so far. It looks like a lot of people are kissing me. Haven’t studied yet, but they planned, you’ve seen just great.
Um, or they’ve already certain their personal statement, which is also awesome. So I’ll leave the poll open for a few more seconds before I get back to,
okay. Uh, I’m going to close the poll and then I’ll put you on the next slide.[00:13:00]
All right. Um, so next, uh, next site is Wednesday essay brands. Great. So it sounds like the majority of our listeners are starting to think about brainstorming, but maybe having actually kind of sat down to, to get that writing started, which is totally okay. You’re in a good place in the application cycle.
Um, so, um, in terms of pacing and, and timelines, uh, you’re going to want to start when you start your essay brainstorming, you’re always going to want to start with your personal statement or your common app essay as it’s going to be most likely the longest essay you write, you will send that essay out to the majority, if not all schools that you apply to.
So you want to devote more time to it and you want to start with it rather. Um, and so on the personal statement, you want to start early. Um, as I mentioned, this is an essay. It is a little bit more focused on who you are, your identity and your personality, um, which are presumably [00:14:00] something you’re already quite familiar with.
Um, They likely will not change in the next one to three months between now and sort of your college essay deadlines, so you can already get started on it. So then rather than later, uh, the common app application, um, has opened, it opened August 1st, the essay prompts are available, so you can freely begin up restarting process.
Um, today, tomorrow after this webinar, um, w generally speaking though, to the pay thing, the summer between your junior and senior year is, is a good time to start reflecting and planning your personal statement essay. Um, so if you’re a rising senior and you’re getting started now, it’s September 1st, um, you’re in a good place if you’re a rising junior or sophomore, and you’re trying to figure out, you know, if you should already hurry up and get started, don’t worry.
You still have some time to go a year or two. Uh, but the summer before senior year, um, is a good place. Both place to begin brainstorming now on supplemental essays. Um, there is [00:15:00] a few, a few pointers for deciding when to get started. So first of all, uh, if you’ve already completed your personal statement, you’ve, you’ve done your brainstorming.
You’ve already written it. Um, the next sort of logical step is to, to move on to your supplemental essays. Um, if you have any, um, Overall, you want to know you would have a pretty good idea of what colleges you want to apply to. So you want to have your list of colleges ready. It doesn’t have to be 100% done, but you want to have a good sense of some of the schools you’re going to be applying to because supplemental essays will of course depend on the school and you might be hearing thunder.
My background, I apologize. There’s there’s a lot going on outside today. Um, now for supplemental essays, prompts are not posted consistently. So when these prompts are shared, will really vary by school. Most of them we’ll try to get them out around July, August. So by the time the common app opens, especially if they’re a common app school, they want to have their prompts updated.
But almost always nearly all colleges will [00:16:00] hop their prompts updated before the end of summer. So that’s the end of your rising senior summer. Um, so you already have them on hand. Um, but I also don’t recommend you trying to brainstorm your supplemental essays for all colleges at the same time. Um, I really encourage you to pick one college, work on it, do your brainstorming, do your writing, and then move on to the next one.
You will see some common themes across supplemental essays, and you will be able to kind of reuse and recycle and adopt. Uh, but you don’t want to overwhelm your brain and sort of try to plan everything out all at once. Um, my next slide is on brainstorming strategies. So this, these strategies are useful for all essays.
Um, common app supplements. Um, obviously some of the points may not apply depending on what the question is asking, but these are some good rules of thumb. So first start is, you know, if you’re really kind of. Um, sitting in front of a blank, blank sheet of paper or in 2021, a blank screen, most likely, um, [00:17:00] some of the exercises that you can do to sort of get your creative juices flowing, um, is number one, you could just write out some adjectives that you think best describes you.
So these can be adjectives that you yourself would use. Um, you can pull your friends, your parents, your siblings, um, ask them for, you know, top two, top three adjectives they would use and write them all out. Good, bad. I mean, you don’t want to say anything negative about yourself, overtly negative about yourself in an essay, but for brainstorming purposes, you want to go get all of it down on the page.
Another good strategy is to make a list of your interests. So these can be school, subject interests. So you really like math, maybe you really hate physics. Um, these can be strong likes or strong dislikes, um, but focus more on your likes and your interests and things that drive you and inspire you. Um, and you can also pull from your extracurricular activities and your hobbies, anything you do on your own time, for fun to just write out some things you enjoy doing [00:18:00] so they can be activities.
So for example, you like skiing or they can be, um, more about skills. So maybe you enjoy languages and learning new languages. You may not be in a language club, but that might be something that excites you. And that works for you. And had this strategy is to think back to your whole life, but really the last three to four years of your life to see if there were any really key events or moments, maybe you won, maybe you’re an athlete and you won an important competition.
Um, maybe as I mentioned, um, at an early age, during an earlier slide, you know, you moved to another town or another school, um, and it was a big pivotal moment, um, because it exposed you to a new community. You made new friends, et cetera. Uh, maybe you had an important milestone in a relationship or a friendship.
And this is something I can touch on. Um, a little bit more. I think it’s a common question. I get about essays in, in QA, you know, about topics not to write on, but, [00:19:00] um, so there’s some caveats to writing about your relationships with your friends or your family members or your siblings. Um, but, um, for your brainstorming, you know, it’s a good idea to, to visit revisit those as well.
Um, and finally, you can also talk about finding a new passion or an interest, you know, um, through an activity or on your own time, that can also be a formative experience. Um, as I mentioned before, you want to, you want to talk to your best friend, your siblings, your parents want to brainstorm with them because sometimes things that you maybe wouldn’t, um, necessarily.
Think about yourself or maybe it would be so obvious that you wouldn’t even think to put them down on a page or things that stand out to people who know you best. Um, so it’s a good idea to consult them. You can also ask your teachers, um, you know, anyone your work with you’re close with. Um, and finally, a more common out personal statement.
Specific strategy is to take a look at the prompts, the common app prompts, and really pick one or two. So rather [00:20:00] than trying to brainstorm for every single of the seven prompts that are out there, pick one or two that stand out to you as either interesting or perplexing or provoking, um, or that very clearly speak to you as, oh, I know exactly.
You know what I would say to this question and then make a little draft outline. It doesn’t have to be anything too fancy or formal, just bullet points about, you know, what, how would you answer this question? What story would you tell if, for example, a friend of yours, you know, At a sleepover asked you this question, which is not a very likely scenario, but in a kind of, not a too formal settings.
How would you answer this question? The next slide is on brainstorming to get started on writing specifically. So one of the big, uh, fear is that, you know, my, my own students, my own clients that I request asked me about is sort of, well, what if I don’t know how to get started? So this is, this is your [00:21:00] classic writer’s blog situation where you, you’ve kind of done your homework, you’ve done your research, you know, where you want to apply, but when it’s time, time comes to start writing you kind of freeze.
Um, and as kind of cliche, as it may sound a really good strategy for, for writing is to, to just start writing. Um, and these can be nonsensical strings of words. They can be bullet points. They can be, um, Numbered lists, whatever works for you, but, uh, start mapping out, um, some kind of structure for your, for your essay.
Um, try, try trying to answer the question. Um, you can use some of the brainstorming strategies I mentioned to get you started kind of in that, in that writing, get to get you in that writing mindset. Um, this also allows you the strategy of kind of putting everything down in paper. It allows you to get some of them, you know, chatter out of the way and [00:22:00] make room for more creative ideas.
So what that means is, you know, maybe the first couple of ideas you have for answering the prompt are a little bit silly or a little bit too general. Uh, but by writing them out, which will allow your brain to sort of shift its attention away from those and to dig a little bit more deeper into, um, other answers that you might have for any given prompt.
Okay. These allergies, these brainstorming strategies allow you to, um, reflect a little bit on your life as well, which is not something we get to do often or to everyday life. We tend to kind of go through it and just do things. And we don’t necessarily think about why we do them or what motivates us. Um, so kind of get yourself in that creative, um, rather reflective mindset and start thinking about, okay, what are some, some key highlights from my past couple of years in high school, um, that I would want someone to know about.
Um, and my last, um, last point that [00:23:00] I do want to stress is that there is such a thing as overthinking your essays. So if you spend too much time in this brainstorming stage, um, where, you know, you’re mapping and remapping and outlining and making extended outlines of every single, um, essay prompt questions, Um, you, you risk getting stuck there because of course you’re never going to get a perfect answer.
Um, none of us are perfect. Um, you want to do your best, you want to put your best foot forward, but you also don’t want to get so stuck in the brainstorming that you can never bring yourself to actually sit down and start writing, you know, full sentences, full paragraphs and answering a question. Great.
Um, my next slide is on how to brainstorm to write better essays. So, um, some of the most important points to keep in mind, um, for writing strong essays, um, is to make sure, first of all, that you have, um, a sense of a narrative that you’re [00:24:00] trying to put forward on the page so that you’re not just stating a series of facts.
So if, for example, you’re writing about a formative. Formative experience like moving to a new country. Um, I use this example often because that’s what I wrote one of my essays about, because that’s, that was my experience. Um, so if you’re writing about that, um, you want to make sure that there’s an overarching point or seem to, or message to your essay.
So you’re not just saying, you know, when I was 14, I moved to another country. Um, and then I went to a new school, um, had learned, um, to study a new language and it was difficult. Um, you know, I’m, I’m really simplifying here, but you want to make sure that there’s kind of a takeaway, right? So you want to ask the sub that, so what question, so what this happened to you, but what does it mean?
What did it, um, make you feel? What does make you think, uh, was kind of a person, did it make you to have had this experience? Um, [00:25:00] it helps to have a narrative because it allows you to. Not get stuck in the middle of your writing process, because you can always reference back to your main message, or you can almost think of it as a thesis statement.
If that’s something that you’ve learned in high school, you know, to register the statement for each essay in social studies or English, um, you can always reference back to that main message. Um, if at any point you get stuck and ask yourself, okay, is what I’m writing right now are the examples of providing right now contributing to that main message or are they heading to it or are they taking me on a tangent in a completely different direction?
Um, and not helping me to get my main point of. Um, another important aspect of essay writing is to make sure that, you know, I told you not to over-prepare, but you still want to prepare, um, you want to have sort of a grab bag of examples, um, for different types of [00:26:00] questions. Um, you saw some of those different questions you might encounter earlier.
Um, so you want to have, rather than writing about one example over and over again, um, maybe you write about a sports injury, for example, um, as a formative experience, or it’s an important moment in your high school career. Um, you don’t want to just write about that example for every question that you receive, because one you’ll get tired, you’ll get tired and you’ll get sloppy and you’ll run out of details to share and to.
When you apply to colleges, it is very likely that you will write more than one essay per college. So you will have your personal statement and one to two to three to four supplemental essays and one your essays to be a coherent package. So you want them to tell a big overarching story about who you are as an applicant.
Um, and so if every one of your essay talks about the same one or two examples, [00:27:00] activities, life events, then you know, your reader’s going to get bored and they’re not going to glean anything new about you. Um, and they’re going to move on to the next applicant. So think of every essay in an application as a sort of one part of a big hole, right?
So if one essay talks about, um, an important value that you hold in another one, add to that by talking about, um, an interesting fashion that you have, and another one talks about maybe your family and. Formative experience your family. So you want each essay to reveal a new sort of sight of you, um, as opposed to hammering kind of the same point over and over again.
Um, so I think, I think we’re through to the end of this slide. Um, yeah. Um, after this section, as soon as he tells me a bit more about smell for on personal experiences when it comes to the essay brainstorming process, um, before we actually get to that section, I have one last question for you [00:28:00] guys. Um, so just to gauge how prepared everyone feels, um, my question is how prepared do you feel about the college application process?
Um, so you guys can let us know in the polls sort of where you are right now. Um, and also it’s totally okay if you don’t feel prepared, um, this webinar will help you guys basically, um, just, just know what to do next for the essay branching process. So that way, if you’re getting started now with your college apps, you can really just go into.
Um, all right, so it looks like maybe a third of you guys are feeling not prepared, but you’re also feeling ready for anything just, okay. Um, and then the other three are also feeling prepared, but it has some questions. So as a reminder, you can start dropping questions now in the Q and a section, and you don’t have to wait until the QA starts.
Um, and then we’ll be sucking your questions, um, throughout the second half of the webinar. Right? So I’ll give you guys a few more seconds. I, before I close the poll,
um, back to you tomorrow on how you have been shunned for your college. [00:29:00] So, um, I already alluded a little bit to some of the topics that I wrote about when I was applying. So I applied in 2015, which was more than six years ago, which is crazy to imagine. Um, and I. Was a first-generation student in my family to go to college in the United States.
So my family is from Russia and we immigrated when I was in middle school. So I was the first one to go through the American college applications process. Um, and I didn’t really know how to approach it at all. You know, maybe I Googled around, I’m not even sure at this point. Um, I talked to my friends, um, some of whom had older siblings or parents who went to college in the U S um, so, you know, their information was usually also outdated.
Um, and then I figured out sort of what goes into an application and I pulled up my essays and I just started writing. So my common app, I looked at the prompts and I thought, you know, first prompt, um, prompt number one, which has not changed since 2015, [00:30:00] um, was easiest for me to respond to. And I took it and basically I just sat down and I started writing whatever came to me.
Um, I also definitely have this idea in mind. And that there sort of the quote unquote right. Or best ways to write an essay, sort of what I was trying to get into the mind of an admissions officer and say, what type of student would they want to admit to this school? Um, and what type of essay would that type of student.
Right. And I was trying to sort of cater to that imagined need, um, and to write in a way that I felt they would like, and of course I had no actual conception of what they wanted to see or what they would like or who else would apply together with me to the universities I was applying to. But I was trying to do that anyway, because I was anxious and stressed and I wanted to get into college.
And that felt like a good idea at the time. Um, and [00:31:00] in keeping with that theme, um, I was always trying to, you know, I didn’t lie or invent anything on my applications, but I was trying to take what I experienced and sort of fit into that mold of what is a good college essay or what is an essay that a top ranking university would expect from me.
Um, so rather than just reflecting on what were my takeaways from any given experience? So one supplemental essay I wrote, I remember it was about, um, my quality paper or school newspaper at that point. Uh, although I did newspaper in college as well with going this paper and my involvement in it and why I was passionate about it.
Um, and I distinctly remember, um, you know, trying to essentially make myself sound more impressive than I felt that I was as opposed to just being authentic and, and writing about why I liked writing, why I like taking photos, um, what my newspaper community gave me. Um, so, [00:32:00] you know, that last bullet point really summarizes it really well.
I was kind of trying to fit myself to their college as opposed to simply speaking about my own experiences in an authentic way. Um, and what’s even a bigger do not do is I know that I had a few top choices in mind. And so when I was writing my essays, I was really writing almost all of my essays to those top choices, even when those essays were going to other universities, maybe my safety schools, which is definitely not, um, not as strategy I endorse in retrospect.
Um, and with that, we’ll move on to the next slide.
Go ahead. Yes. So this is, um, I told you what I did and how I’m going to tell you, um, how to do better than 2015 tomorrow. Um, you know, all that said I did get into Georgetown, so, you know, I did something right. But, um, I think that the asset rating [00:33:00] process was much more stressful for me than maybe you needed to have been.
Um, if I had known, um, how to approach it better. So, as I mentioned before, one of the most important things that you can do when you’re planning your essays is to really start with where your eye, um, in your own experiences. So not trying to do what your friends are doing, not trying to do what your friends, older siblings did, uh, not trying to do what Google or college confidential tells you to do, but to just reflect on your own lived experiences, um, and try to pull out a few key moments and key themes in your own.
Um, you don’t want to be organized. So, you know, you don’t want your essays to be kind of a very confusing collection of everything that’s ever happened to you. That was important. Um, you want to make sure that you identify some themes, um, that I mentioned before. So, um, some common themes that I, I come across with my own students, um, include, but are not limited to writing about giving back to your community, [00:34:00] um, community service, how your identity or your faith informs your desire to give back to your community.
Um, writing about, um, perseverance or endurance in the context of a particular experience in extracurricular, in a sport, um, in a challenging academic course. Um, those are just some kind of ideas for what could be a theme that you could organize your, your thoughts around. Um, and of course, you know, you’ll, you’ll come up with your own themes.
Um, the possibilities are endless. I just want to give some concrete examples. Um, As I mentioned before, before you start writing, you want to figure out what is your narrative? What is the main story you were trying to tell and what angle you want to tell it from? Um, so going back to that newspaper example, um, you know, if the story that I want to tell is that I’m really passionate about uncovering the truth.
Um, if we’re going to speak about journalism, um, there is a few ways that you can approach that, right? You can approach it, um, by describing [00:35:00] an interesting story that you had to write for that newspaper and why that inspired you to want to pursue journalism as a major or potentially as a PA a career, or you can write about it from the angle of community.
So how being part of the newspaper helped you find a community of like-minded students and, and connect with them. So, you know, you’re talking about the same activity, the same ultimate main theme, but you’re tackling it from different directions. Um, as you’ve done all that, then you want to look at the prompts and see.
If you’re given the choice as with the common app, you’re given seven prompts. If you’re given the choice to pick one, you pick one that best fits with the seat you already identified for your story, right? Sometimes you don’t have a choice. Sometimes your supplemental essay question is what it is, and you have to find your best way to answer it.
But if you’re given some options, which you often are, you pick one that debt sort of resonates with you, the most resonates with you and with your narrative. Um, and as I [00:36:00] mentioned before, if you only have one prompt, um, you want to focus on your experience. You don’t want to try to guess what the admissions officer’s going to one, because there’s so many factors that go into their decisions that it’s absolutely impossible to ever predict or game out what they will want from a successful applicant.
Um, it’s a nightmare to try to do so. And I have to literally do not recommend trying, um, ultimately. You, you want to get into university because it is excited about you as an applicant, um, and authentic applicant, right? So you don’t want to try to tell them what they want to hear.
Right. I’m on the next slide. And, um, this is, I can’t really can’t stress that point enough. This is my main, if you take one thing away from this webinar, this is the one you will never be able to guess what a college wants or what are the best type of applicant is for any given college or for colleges in [00:37:00] general.
Um, so really just focused on, on reflecting and on, on figuring out the best, the best story that fits who you are and on what experiences you’ve had because experienced admissions officers are always going to know if you’re. Trying to impress them either by using really kind of Sansi pompous language or by kind of overstressing, maybe your importance, um, as a member of a particular school club, or really just doing anything to, to impress them.
Right. Impress them too much, too hard. Um, similarly they will always know for lying. Um, if you’re trying to invent experiences that you didn’t live because you think they’ll sound more impressive, um, you will not be able to write about them. Well, and any reader who’s, you know, had multiple years of experience reading these types of essays and your reader will know, um, they will know, and they will not.
Oh, that’d be a good outcome [00:38:00] for your application. Um, and finally, I think I eluded to this before admissions is kind of like dating. If a college doesn’t want you for who you are, then you’re, you’re better off without it. And you know, it wasn’t meant to be so really if you approach it with that kind of mentality, there are so many colleges out there and you are going to be able to find one that matches your interests, uh, matches your preferences and, and is what you need.
And that is also just as excited about you as your. Yeah, thanks Tamara for that great overview on brainstorming essays and also the essay writing process. Um, so that’s the end of the presentation part of our webinar. Um, just as a reminder, you can download the slides if you go to on the handouts tab and now we’re going to move on to the live Q and a.
Um, so for this section, I’ll read through the questions that you guys submitted in the QA tab. Um, and if for any questions that are selected, I’ll paste them into the public chats. You can see them and then I’ll read them out loud before tomorrow. Cause you guys can answer. Um, if you guys have any troubles submitting to the QA, you can also send [00:39:00] me a private and a chat message with your question.
Um, all right, so let’s go on the first question. Um, I just lost the question. Give me one second. All right. So the first question that we have is how do I make a college essay stand out?
That’s a good question. That is a fantastic question. Um, so you know, there’s a few things, some are a little bit more technical and kind of. Um, yeah, technical I’m detail oriented in somewhere a little bit more big picture. So in terms of technical questions, I mean, first and foremost, you want to make sure that it’s well-written, that is proof-read that there’s no grammatical errors that it’s well structured and it may not sound like something that would make it stand out.
But, um, it’s almost the opposite, right? If those things are not mad, if those boxes are not checked, it will stand out in a bad way. So you want to make sure that your kind of style grammar and flow are laid out, [00:40:00] um, and clear and well done. Um, other than that, um, in terms of big picture kind of setting yourself apart from other applicants, it’s it’s, as I mentioned before, it’s, it’s really trying to find something that is unique to you.
And I recognize in saying that. A lot of you who are here in this webinar, and a lot of other students, your age are going to have similar experiences on paper. So you will be playing similar sports. You will be, you know, in the same school clubs because many schools have the same clubs. Um, and so it can feel really stressful to try to figure out a way to be unique in that context.
But remember, you may be in a club with 20 other people, and they’re all going to have the same club on their resume, and they’re going to write about it potentially, but how w what you took away from that club, how you participated in it and what [00:41:00] conclusions you drew and how you developed as a person is going to be unique to you.
So really trying to bring it back to that idea of authenticity, um, and speaking, um, I mean, really speaking from the card and, and sharing the experiences that you know were impactful to you, as opposed to what others may think should have been impacted. Um, my next question is, are there any bad essay topics?
Can your essay be too political? That is a great question. Um, and it’s a question I get every year. Um, well, it’s really two questions. So in terms of bad essay topics, there are a few topics that are not recommended. Um, mostly because they are either overdone and too general or are so difficult to execute well that it’s usually best not to attempt them.
So some of those examples include writing about topics that are too personal. So, um, [00:42:00] things like, um, divorcing a family or a bad break. I am so sorry. This was a flood warning message. I don’t know if you’ve heard the beep. So. Right. So a divorce and family, a bad breakup with group, significant other, um, or a bad fight with a best friend.
Those are very intensely personal. And I don’t want to take away from the, you know, the difficulty of such an experience, but when it comes to writing college essays, um, you do want to remember you’re writing for a stranger, um, and 600 words or less. It’s really hard to convey some of the intricacies of these kinds of more personal subjects, and it can make a reader show uncomfortable.
Um, it can come off as oversharing. So you want to make sure that you’re picking topics that, um, yes. Speak to two formative experiences, but sort of keeping in mind your audience and who you’re writing for and why you writing. Um, can they be too political? Um, [00:43:00] That is, that is a great question. And especially, you know, in the last few years, uh, in, uh, are quite polarized political environment, um, it can be stressful to try to navigate that side of things.
And, um, I think if I’m not mistaking, there should be, um, a few good blog posts on our, on our CollegeAdvisor blog that touch exactly on the question. Um, but I will say now that if you write about something political, you want to make sure you’re writing about it because through a lens, through a personal lens, right?
So you’re not just stating a political opinion, but maybe you’re explaining why a particular issue is important to you. And you’ve worked really hard to advocate, um, for that issue and how that was impactful for you, how you grew as a person. Um, you know, did you mean. New people through this [00:44:00] political engagement.
Did you learn something or realize something that you didn’t realize before? So really bringing it back to that personal lens, right. As opposed to just a pining on a hot button issue, that’s kind of in the news cycle at any given moment. Great. Um, a few questions before we take a quick break. Um, next question is, should you include or avoid dialogue in your narrative?
Um, for that, I would say, honestly, it’s completely up to you. Um, it depends on who you are as a writer and sort of what you’re trying to do with your essay. Um, if it feels right, if you feel that it would add value to what you’re trying to say and get your message across better, by all means do it. I’ve had students who wrote a lot of dialogues students who wrote no dialogue, um, and both groups have been successful, um, in admissions.
So it’s really about. Um, another question, how long does it take to write an essay? Oh, that will be really [00:45:00] dependent on, uh, as well, uh, some on your process, really. So for some students, you know, they’ll spend a lot of time brainstorming. Um, and then when they sit down to write, it will be really smooth sailing for others.
Um, they will take time to edit and rewrite and copy edit. It depends on, you know, how strong of a writer you are. Also. It depends on whether you like writing or not quite frankly, because maybe you’re someone who’s really into physics, math, and those are the subjects you’ve been pursuing for four years, really.
And when you have to sit down and suddenly write, you know, these pages and pages of texts, when you combine all of the essays together, you know, that might be slow going for you. So it’s really, really hard to get an estimate. Um, I. Quantitative metric I can give is on average, my students for any given essay, they usually go through about 2, 3, 4 drafts of an essay [00:46:00] before they’re satisfied with it.
But how much time those drafts take really depends on the person. Okay, great. And before we get back to QA and I also do, and I tell you guys more about how you can get help and also more about CollegeAdvisor. Um, so I’m going to send out, um, a offer and if you guys can go and click the link and learn more about CollegeAdvisor, um, and how to get one-on-one help.
So if you want to work one-on-one with an advisor and we have a ton of advisors here on over 155, um, of both advisors who are current students or alumni from colleges and also former admissions officers. Um, so you can click the link if you want to sign up for free consultation. Um, all you have to do is click on the green chat button at the bottom of the screen.
And then if you write in the word consultation, alight, you know that we’ll come back to you and it we’ll be able to help you set up your free competition. Yeah, this is a really great resource. Um, he worked with people like Tamara, um, who really know a lot about, um, project missions and the essay writing process.
So especially if you didn’t get your answer, um, insert into QA on [00:47:00] today on puzzles, they’re a great place to find some answers and get some help. Um, right. So back to the Q and a, um, the next question that we had was how do I make sure my essay doesn’t sound sad and attention seeking? That’s that’s a really good question, uh, as well.
And I think the biggest tip there, um, I know I mentioned, um, a few topics that, you know, might be a little bit too personal to write about, but, um, it, regardless of what you just write about, what you want to keep in mind is, um, you don’t want to just stop at sort of telling the reader what happened to you, right?
So if you just lay out the situation, it is true that you run the risk of coming off as. Um, what, what was the question side and efficiency? Can you re you run a risk of, of coming off in a less favorable light, but you want to take it that one step further and say, okay, so this happened to me where I lived this experience and how has it [00:48:00] made me better or stronger or more resilient resilience.
So what did it add to me that I can talk about in a more positive light? And it doesn’t need to be that you had some challenging experience. Um, you don’t need to force yourself to pretend that you’re okay with it or to kind of brush it off as, oh, this hardest thing happened to me, but it’s fine. Uh, that’s not at all what I’m suggesting you do, but it’s more about kind of what, how has.
Helps you grow as a person, right? So if you take it that extra step forward, then you won’t come off as sad or attention seeking. You will come off as a resilient person who is able to take things that come at them and, um, and turn them around to, to evolve and grow. Great. Um, next question we have is how can we create an attention grabbing hook?
Um, that’s a really hard question to [00:49:00] answer broadly kind of in a webinar without, um, having some idea of what you’re writing about. Um, a few common strategies. Um, so let me, let me share two, uh, kind of off the top of my head one, um, is going back to that dialogue question is to kind of start off with aligned from a dialogue you’re having or something that was said to you.
If it’s really attention grabbing, if it really gets at the heart of what you’re writing about. And the second, which is really an extension of the first is to start in the moment. Right. So if you’re describing an event or situation to, to open your essay by putting the reader, just dropping them in that situation, what was it like to be there?
What did it smell like? What did it sound like? What did it feel like to be you in that moment in time? So, you know, there are ways to do that poorly. Um, so you want to be careful that you don’t, uh, disorient the [00:50:00] reader too much, but starting with that kind of in the action hook, uh, can help them to, to stay engaged with, with your essay as you then kind of zoom out and start to give a little bit more analysis of what’s going on.
Okay. Um, our next question is a little bit similar. It’s how should I start my essay? I heard I’ve heard that you can start off with a story and then end with that story. I just know that coats are good to start off with. Um, what are some other good things. Oh, you stole a whole of my good examples. You’ve already listed all of them, so you’re already in a good place.
Um, so we mentioned a quote, um, mentioned story. Um, you know, there is really as many ways to start an essay as there are people who write those essays. Um, I’m trying to think back to some of the essays I recently edited. And a lot of them do start either with a quote or a story is a very common [00:51:00] refrain.
Um, yeah, tomorrow I think I’ll be jumping here. Um, it can also be super helpful to see examples and just see how they end up starting, um, like their first sentences. Um, like sometimes you can also create a first sentence that sort of want to hear. Yes. So if there’s some kind of contradiction or just something that sounds really intense, Um, I know one that I’ve heard from years back was, um, every time I walk into a Starbucks, I use a different name on from there.
You sort of just want to hear what the rest of the story will be. Um, and so you can, you can sort of, I guess, create something where if you read the first sentence, it’s gonna make me be intrigued and angry, but to hear the rest of the story for thank you, Lily. That was much better answer. Yeah, no worries.
Um, okay. The next question you have just to keep going through, um, someone asks, how should I tweak my essay to cater to different colleges? Um, for example, like a public school, if she’s a religious school so for your main comment, FSA, um, you know, you will send one essay out to all [00:52:00] schools. So there you won’t be making any tweaks.
Um, especially if you’re going through the common app platform, you won’t physically be able to make tweaks. Um, That, when it comes to supplemental essays, um, the best advice you can give there is to really do your research with each university. So, you know, you want to see if there were some really important values or messages that are on the website of the university.
So you can frame your answers around those values. So here, I’m thinking of Georgetown, my Alma mater, uh, it’s a Jesuit university, um, and they have a few kind of big mottos, if you will. One of which is men and women for others. So they’re really big on community service and giving back to the community, um, and using your education to improve the world around you.
Right? So, um, when you go on their website, those Jesuit values are kind of plastered everywhere on many pages. So it’s kind of very clear what the focus and ethos of a university is when you go on their websites. So to tweak your [00:53:00] essay, to cater to different colleges, you, you really do your research. You see.
Well, the university’s values are what interesting offerings. They may have unique academic or extracurricular offerings. And then when you write the supplemental essays, you kind of, you try to work that into your responses. Great. Next question is any advice for students who need help putting their unique voice in the personal statement?
I just put my voice in other essays, but for my college, I see. I can’t. Okay. Um, here, you know, I’d be interested to see, you know, what you mean by other essays, but, um, I can definitely still, still answer your question. Um, you, you want to start with examples, right? So I know it’s, it’s, it’s challenging or rather I make it maybe sound simpler than it is, but you want to start with a few very concrete examples of, of moments in your life that speak to.[00:54:00]
Moments in your life, which you reacted in a way that’s really unique to you, right? So you want to, you want to take things that actually happen and build from there. But when you’re talking about the actual writing style, um, if you wanting to make sure that your voice comes across and you’re not coming off as sort of formulaic or robotics, uh, one of the best devices I can give you is to share your writing with a trusted friend or a teacher who already have seen some of the schools.
You mentioned you you’re able to put your voice across another essay. So people who have seen your other work and who kind of understand, um, what it is that you’re aspiring to do with your college essay and to get a second pair of eyes on, on the text, um, and see if they can give you any guidance or advice and help you to, to put your essay together in a more way, in a way that’s more unique, unique to you and reflective of your voice.
Okay. Um, my next question is what advice would you give to people who are not great writers. [00:55:00] Um, plan, organize and proofread. I’ve had a number of students for whom writing is not kind of natural skill is not something that comes easily. It’s something that’s hard work and takes a lot of patience and practice and that’s totally okay.
And, you know, do be mindful that college admissions officers don’t expect everyone. Who’s, who’s applying to college to be sort of connects, you know, having way, not at all. Um, but, um, if. Sure. Writing something you struggle with. You want to set aside ample time to make sure you plan and organize your thoughts very clearly that you know what story you’re telling, what is your main point, how you’re getting from point a to point B to point C and then you’ll want to leave a lot of time for editing.
So your first draft may not be so great. Your second draft may not be so great, but, um, if you put in the work, um, and potentially seek support from teachers or friends or parents, and you revise continuously, you will see that, you know, [00:56:00] between even your first and third draft, there will be a lot of improvement, but you want to make sure you give yourself the time to do that.
And you don’t procrastinate until the last minute, especially if you know that writing is something that’s a challenge for you. Great. Um, my next question is should credentials be included in our essays? And if so, how long. Um, I assumed by credentials, you mean sort of your big achievements, um, in your academic career or your extracurriculars?
Um, you can definitely mention them if they’re relevant to the story or to the point you’re trying to make. So you don’t want to write sort of a cover letter, right? The types you would do when you apply for a job. So you don’t want to just list off multiple achievements. Um, Um, mostly connect them, you know, with, with some freezes and call it a day.
Um, if you’re going to mention a credential, there needs to be context in which it’s relevant, right? So maybe it was a very hard earned credential. Maybe there was a challenge you to overcome in order to [00:57:00] acquire it, or maybe that credential speaks to your role as a leader, um, or to a particular skill that you have.
And that case, of course you can and should mention it, but you don’t want to just overload your essay with, you know, president of this club, co president of this other club. Um, if it doesn’t serve a greater purpose, um, in your story, um, our next question that we have is, is there such a thing as being too reflective?
I know that when I first heard it answering a prompt, it came off as a rant or therapy session. How can I avoid this? So, um, One way they can, uh, that can help. Um, one strategy that can help is, um, what I mentioned earlier, which is maybe giving yourself the space to kind of ramble on paper, um, and get it all out at first.
Um, as opposed to trying to filter it or, or force yourself to be immediately, you know, very well structured, but once you’ve done, so going back through and highlighting or pulling out [00:58:00] pieces of information that are most, um, most important and most telling rights. So, and kind of getting rid of some of the additional noise, um, so organization, so you want to make sure that your everything get on paper.
Um, thing gets restructured organized in a little bit more of a, of a kosher way. And as I mentioned before, when you’re treating. Your topics and your answer is you do want to ask yourself a question of, you know, in my, is what I’m sharing a little bit too personal, um, knowing that this is going to be a stranger reading this for two, three minutes at most.
Um, yeah. Am I giving them too much information, um, that they don’t need to know essentially? Um, probably just a few more questions before we wrap up on next question is what are some good ways to show and not tell? Interesting. That’s a great question. And one, I get every day of my work as a [00:59:00] CollegeAdvisor.
Um, so the first thing you want to make sure to do, or rather not to do is not to explain. So think of it as sort of. Uh, uh, reading or writing an instruction manual, right? You do this, then you do this and then you do this, this happened, this happened. And then this happened, um, that’s an example of telling.
Um, so you can tell the reader, um, being, um, being the president of this club made me more appreciative of diverse opinions, or you can tell them an anecdote in which a club member had a very unconventional idea about how to fundraise for an upcoming event. And you were not sure about it, but you decided to give it a go and here you’re kind of describing what the idea is [01:00:00] and what you were doing and how you were setting it up.
And then the outcome ultimately was so successful and everyone was so happy that you realized, wow, I should really give my, my teammates more room to improvise or to share, to share their ideas. Right. So. Simply saying that without, without giving the detail and without putting the reader sort of in your, in your shoes, in the room with you, you would be telling, but, but that additional level of, of, of, of detail and of sort of sensory examples, right?
What was it like to be there? What did it feel like? Um, that’s, that’s what makes for a good show. Don’t tell essay or paragraph, for example. Great. Alright, thanks commissioner. It looks like we’re at the end of our webinar time. Um, yeah, big, thank you Tamara, for telling me so much write essay, brainstorming, essay writing, and then also answering all of all of everyone’s questions.
Um, looking ahead at the [01:01:00] calendar, when you guys leave, you guys will be connected to a landing page that has all of our September webinars on. So if you look at this page, our next overnight, it’s going to be the ultimate guide to supplemental essays. So if you guys come to the future webinars, a lot of them are gonna be focused on essay writing.
Um, you know, we hope that you found this helpful and I’ll let you see what a few more in the future. All right, everyone have a great night. Thank you everyone. Have a great night.