Harvard Supplemental Essays Workshop

Join our “Harvard Supplemental Essays Workshop” webinar to gain valuable insights and expert guidance on crafting standout Harvard University application essays. Whether you’re a high school student preparing to apply or a parent supporting your child’s college journey, this webinar will provide you with essential tools and knowledge to create compelling essays.

Key learnings in this webinar include:

– Understanding Harvard’s Unique Approach: Learn about Harvard’s distinctive essay prompts and what they reveal about the university’s values.

– Essay Brainstorming Strategies: Discover effective techniques for generating unique and compelling essay ideas.

– Crafting Engaging Narratives: Explore how to weave personal experiences and anecdotes into a compelling narrative that captures the admissions committee’s attention.

– The Power of Authenticity: Understand the importance of being genuine in your essays and how to convey your true self effectively.

– Editing and Refining: Learn how to edit and refine your essays to ensure they are polished and error-free.

– Expert Tips and Best Practices: Benefit from expert advice on what admissions officers are looking for and tips for making your essays stand out.

– Q&A Session: Get your questions answered by our experienced college admissions expert, Anna Vande Velde.

Don’t miss this opportunity to demystify the Harvard supplemental essays and increase your chances of securing a spot at one of the world’s most prestigious universities. Register now and embark on your journey to crafting outstanding Harvard application essays.

Date 11/16/2023
Duration 1:00:10

Webinar Transcription

2023-11-16 – Harvard Supplemental Essays Workshop

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

Now, without further ado, let’s meet our wonderful panelist, Anna.

Anna: Hi, everyone. Nice to be speaking with you tonight. My name’s Anna. To give you a bit of my background, I completed my undergrad at Carnegie Mellon in 2015. I studied psychology. Actually thought I was going to end up a clinical psychologist, um, but eventually found myself at Harvard Law School.

So I’m very excited to have folks here tonight who are interested in Harvard. Um, I have been with CollegeAdvisor for a couple of years now. Um, in addition to my advising work, I am a captain on our essay review team. So I’m super passionate about the essay component of your applications and really excited to dig into that topic tonight.

Stacey: Amazing. I’m so excited to learn from you tonight, Anna. Being the captain of the essay review team at CollegeAdvisor is a big deal, so you all are in for a real treat. Lots of great advice coming your way. But before we dive in, I do want to get a sense of who we have in the room. So there will be a poll that will pop up in front of you.

Now, what grade are you in? Are you a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior? I’m hoping to see a lot of seniors in the room since you’re probably right in the middle of the essay process. Um, and If you’re not in any of those categories, we also have an other category. Maybe you’re a parent or maybe you’re a post grad.

Um, and maybe we’ll even see some eighth graders. I don’t know. I’ve seen it in other webinars. So welcome to you all. Um, and, you know, I have to say I’m excited. A Yale grad. So I’m feeling a little bit of, you know, um, competitiveness here. Yeah, it’s okay. I, you know, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll step back. It’s fine. Um, but what, um, what advice would you give, I know we’re going to be really talking about the essays in general, but what advice would you give to students who are really, you know, intimidated by that Ivy factor, um, you know, how would you suggest kind of.

Approaching the application, um, what your best foot forward given that, you know, Ivies are so competitive.

Anna: Yeah, it’s really intimidating. I know I felt that not only when I was applying, but also my first semester at Harvard. Um, my best advice is as much as you can, Focus on yourself. Um, I work with an former admissions officer here at CollegeAdvisor who says to clients, comparison is the thief of joy, and he’s so right.

What colleges Ivy’s are otherwise what they’re looking for are unique, passionate students, and you are all unique. Because you’re all different humans. Um, so as much as you can focus on yourself and not worry about what other people are doing, the less stressful this process will be. It’s stressful enough without comparing yourself.

Stacey: So true. I love that advice. Um, I, I struggle with, you know, um, emphasizing to my students, it’s okay to be authentically you, you don’t need to embellish, you don’t need to say more. Then what you’re passionate about and what you’re about. Um, and that’s really what admissions officers want to see across the board, even at the top tier, the top 20, the very competitive schools.

Um, so I echo that wholeheartedly. Thank you for that. Uh, and it looks like we have a nice spread of. Junior, sophomores and seniors. We have mostly juniors. Um, and then we have some of the other categories. So welcome to you all. I’m going to go ahead and close the poll and I’m going to turn it back over to you, Anna, for the main part of the presentation.

Anna: Great. Oops.

Stacey: Oops. Sorry. I skipped ahead for you. Go ahead.

Anna: No worries. This slide is just a broad overview of what we’re going to talk about tonight. So we’ll start with the application requirements for Harvard. Um, we’ll talk a bit about. You know, what are they looking for? Um, we just discussed that briefly, but we’ll get into it further.

Um, then we’ll dive into what makes a strong supplemental essay and how to get started. So first, the Harvard application process. Um, you may or may not have heard that when you apply to college, most universities use either the Common app or the Coalition app. Those are just sites where you can look.

Load up all of your application materials in one place and it will be sent to all the colleges you apply to. It makes your life so much easier because otherwise you’d have to enter all the information, you know, on 12 different websites or however many colleges you apply to. Um, so Harvard does use both.

You can apply on either. There’s no advantage or disadvantage, um, to whichever one you use. It does cost 85 to apply. But if that fee is prohibitive to you, uh, you can apply for a fee waiver and instructions for how to do that are on their website. The application also requires three letters of recommendation to academics.

So from your teachers and one from your counselor at school. You’ll also send them your school report and your transcript and note that Harvard also requires a mid year report. Basically when you apply to college, you’re not going to have your first semester senior year grades yet. So once you do, Harvard’s going to ask you to send those to them just so they can see how you did first semester senior year.

You may also submit standardized test results, so ACT or SAT. But Harvard has announced for at least the next three years, test scores are optional. The deadlines are really important to be aware of. Restrictive Early Action is due November 1st, so this year it’s already passed. What that means is Restrictive Early Action, um, it’s non binding, so it doesn’t mean you have to go to Harvard if you get in.

But it means you’ll get your decision sooner around mid December. You cannot apply for restrictive early action if you’re applying, um, for any binding applications elsewhere. Um, and if you, if you do apply restrictive early action, you’re not required to go, if you get in. Harvard says, um, they acknowledge that their acceptance rates for restrictive early action are higher than regular decision, but they make it very clear that they believe the reason for that is that the application pool.

It’s just more competitive. Um, and that the, you know, the strong, a lot of stronger students have their materials ready sooner. Um, so they say that there’s no benefit to applying earlier, other than you’ll have your decision earlier, which makes maybe the rest of your senior year a little less stressful.

Um, there’s nothing wrong with applying regular decision. No, that due date is January 1st. Applying regular decision gives you. It gives you more time to work on your application materials, and it also gives you basically a whole other semester of high school in which you can, you know, build up your grades and get more experiences that you can write about.

So diving into the essays, the first essay you’ll write for your Harvard application is your personal statement. This is an essay that’s going to go to all the colleges you apply to. So you’re not going to want to mention any specific college in there. You’re not going to want to end that one with, I want to go to Harvard because you’re going to send it to a bunch of other schools also.

Um, you can choose from a list of open ended questions. You choose one and there’s a 650 word limit. Then for Harvard, there are five additional essays. Um, And they each have a word limit of 200, so they’re much shorter, and those are sent only to Harvard. So in those essays, it would be okay to talk specifically about Harvard and why you want to go there.

The topics for the supplementals, um, I don’t want to put the full prompts in here because it would be too many words on the screen, but basically there’s one about your background and how you value diversity, one about an important intellectual experience, one about You know, an extracurricular activity, it could be a club or a job, travel, family responsibilities.

One about your post college goals, so what you want to do after Harvard. And then the fifth one, uh, which I think can be tricky, the top three things your roommates might like to know about you. So really they’re trying to learn more about your personality in that one.

Stacey: Okay. Thank you so much. So we’re gonna give Us a second to get to know you again a little bit more Um, i’m going to start a poll. It should appear in front of you shortly Where are you in the application process now? I don’t I don’t know about you and I don’t remember Um, being so on top of everything that I was done well in advance of application season.

Um, and in fact, you know, most applications don’t even open until that August 1st date and you don’t even know when the supplement’s due. Or what the supplements will be. Are you Harvard supplements remain the same relatively from year to year? Is it useful to start on that process a little bit early?

Start, you know, brainstorming the essays. What is your experience with that?

Anna: Um, I don’t know off the top of my head, if they’re verbatim the same, I think they have similar themes. And so if you started writing one about like an extracurricular experience, and then Harvard changed the framing of their question.

I’m pretty confident you’d be able to use that essay somewhere. And if it absolutely doesn’t work for the Harvard supplemental, you’re going to have other supplementals where it will work. Um, so if you feel like writing early, right, early,

Stacey: it’ll be

Anna: a gift to your future self. And I promise you’ll find a use for it.

Stacey: I totally agree. I, it’s usually, Um, if you have time, really helpful to even just brainstorm some general essay topic ideas before the applications open. Um, so really great insight there. So in terms of where everybody in the room is now, um, based on the grades you’re all in, this makes sense. Some of you are actually researching schools, so hopefully Harvard’s one of them.

Um, some of you are working on your essays. Great and getting your application materials together. Some of you haven’t started and that’s okay too. There’s still regular decision deadlines like Anna was saying, um, and some of you are almost done. So congratulations to you. And with that, um, we’ll go on to the remainder of the presentation over to you, Anna.

Anna: Great. Thank you. Um, so we were talking about this a bit at the beginning, but what are admissions officers looking for? And the very first thing they’re looking for is a unique voice, a unique student and admissions officers say this, and I’m telling you, they mean it, that they do a holistic review, meaning it’s not just your essays that are going to get you in.

It’s not just your grades. It’s not only a test score. They’re looking at this packet they have for you very holistically. And what they want to see in that packet is one, your unique voice. Some level of introspection, growth, learning. They want to get a picture of who you are, where you’ve been, and where you want to go.

Truly, they are looking for students. who they want to meet, who they think would be a good fit on campus. Um, so I know at every point of the application process, there’s room for stress to creep in and anxiety that might feel like, oh, this one thing is going to determine my college acceptances. It won’t.

They really look holistically and they give you space to explain any parts that you are concerned about and to tell your whole story.

Okay. So, admissions essays, I think, are a little different than a lot of the essays you’ve written in high school. First of all, the main subject is you. So, even if you’re talking about something else, even if, say, um, If there’s an essay about a person who’s important to you and you’re talking about them, really, you want to be talking about your reactions to them, your feelings about them, your experiences with them.

You are the main subject. Uh, general grammatical and structural rules are the same with essays you’ve written in high school, but more than ever telling a story is crucial. We’ll get into what I mean by that, but really putting The reader in your shoes, helping them see how you interact with the world, what you see, hear, feel is going to be really compelling in an essay.

So here’s an example. Um, you could start an essay by saying, Sharing my writing with others has always scared me. That’s true, it might intrigue the readers a bit. Consider if instead, you said, My second grade hands shook as I approached Mrs. Sanchez’s desk with a handwritten essay. So the second one still gets the point across, that sharing your writing with others has always scared you, right?

Since you’re in second grade. But it puts the reader in your shoes and it’s telling a story. And stories are what humans naturally want to read more about.

So some general tips. Every word counts. So avoid repeating things that you’ve already discussed in your personal statement or your activity section. I definitely see students sometimes, especially in the supplemental essay prompt about extracurricular activities, Spending a lot of time describing the club, right, describing what Glee Club does or Model UN.

Um, you don’t need to do that. Colleges know what Model UN is. They know what these clubs are about. What they want to know is what you’ve done for the club. It’s also important to use supplemental essays to go deeper on your brand. We’ll get into the brand a bit later, I think. Um, but you want to identify traits that you want to highlight even more than your personal statement does.

So if you think there’s something about you that isn’t captured in the personal statement or something that’s only briefly touched upon, that that’s an important part of who you are, You’re going to want to find a way to bring that into a supplemental essay. Like I said earlier, because these supplementals are going only to Harvard, this, these are essays where it’s okay to make specific references to Harvard.

If there’s a professor there you want to work with or a class you’re excited about, that’s a good thing to put in a supplemental essay.

We just asked you about where you’re at on this timeline. This is our suggested timeline, and I will be the first to admit that I did not follow this at all myself. Um, I think I did everything senior fall. I don’t advise that anyone does that and If you’re in that position, deep breath, it will work out.

What we would advise though, um, I know there’s some juniors here, is that, you know, junior year, especially spring semester, start brainstorming topics for your personal statement. Go online, look at the personal statement prompts, so they’re in the back of your brain. And then, any time you have an interesting moment, or something, you know, sparks your interest, jot it down.

That might be a good story to start a personal statement with. Then, junior summer, um, when school’s over is a really good time to start drafting and workshopping your personal statement. If you do that, and then you, um, finalize that sort of beginning of junior year, then you can start focusing on the supplementals, um, which gives you ample time to get feedback on all of your essays, um, To share them with teachers, friends, and make sure that they’re all as strong as they can be.

How to start. I tell my students that I, I truly think the hardest sentence you will write for any essay is the first thing you write. Starting is really hard. I think as humans, we all put a lot of pressure on ourselves, especially if we’re in a group of people applying to Harvard. Um, we might hold ourselves to some pretty high standards, which makes starting something really hard.

If the expectation we have for ourselves is everything I write must be great, that’s a really good way to Damned in all creativity to even start writing. So I say as best you can throw that anxiety out the window and just start writing. You don’t even need to start writing a story. Just write down an idea.

Oh, maybe I could write about. This thing that happened on the golf club. Maybe I could write about this thing I learned in science class. Talk it out with your friends, with your teachers, with your guidance counselor. And as you’re thinking about what you’re gonna write about, think also about your brand.

And I promise you I’ll get more into this later. So let’s do that now. Admissions officers have maybe 7 to 12 minutes to Um, on a good day for each application they read, which means they’re going through quickly, and it means they’re not going to remember every single detail about your application. So your goal.

is after they’ve read it, when they walk away, they go to lunch, they go home at the end of the day. What two to three high level things could do you want them to remember about you? And by high level, I mean, maybe you’re, you’re dedicated, you’re an advocate for others, genuinely high level, figure out what that brand is, what makes you, you, and then allow that to guide, um, Uh, what essay ideas you end up choosing.

I also stress to not worry about the word limit at first, especially those supplementals. Two hundred words might sound like a lot, but I promise you it is not. And that’s okay. When you start writing, just write. It’s so much easier to go back once you have a story written and trim down all of the The words, change the sentence structures, pull out details that aren’t necessary.

That’s much easier than getting the words out there in the first place. So get the words out there, and then look at pairing back on words if you need. That’s also a really great thing to ask people for help with. Teachers, family, friends, um, is the paring back on the word count. Common

mistakes I see, uh, I read hundreds of essays every application cycle. One mistake I see is, You know, what we just talked about, this brand is like not having one, not having an idea of what you want the readers to remember about you, um, at the end of the day. Another one, it’s just like a long, unconnected list of accomplishments.

You all are highly accomplished and absolutely we want to convey that to the colleges. The activity section, the honor section, those are really great places for concise lists. The essay should be a story, so not a place for lists. And then also, and this one I think is really hard, forgetting that good writing is an iterative process.

Asking for feedback, sharing our writing with others is a very vulnerable thing to do. I’ve been writing for years, it still scares me. And it’s really, really helpful. So, writing these in time, so you have the time to ask for feedback and incorporate change. Being open to making changes. Um, and yeah, preparing ahead.

Okay, so once we get to the revision stage, what do we look for? I think we’ve all probably reached a point where we’ve read something we’ve written so many times that we reach a point of like, I don’t even know if this makes sense anymore. If that happens to you, walk away, go do something you enjoy, go outside, come back later the next day with fresh eyes.

And then as you read through, ask yourself, do I know what my themes are? Can I point to them? What is this adding to my application? And then watch out for passive language, especially if you’re trying to pare back on word count. Instead of saying, for example, I was running to the beach. You could say, I ran to the beach.

Or running to the beach, I saw X, Y, and Z. It might seem like a small point, but I see passive language in most essays and it’s the number one thing I look for when students need help hearing back on word count. Another thing that I think can be really hard is to read your essay out loud, and it’s really valuable.

You can do it in your room, you can close the door, no one else needs to hear you. But if you read it out loud, it doesn’t sound like something you would ever say. Then you’ve missed an opportunity to capture your voice and your voice is unique and that’s going to make you stand out if you can capture that in an essay.

And then again, ask others for feedback and I encourage you to be specific when you ask them for feedback. So ask them, does this sound like me? You know me well. Does this sound like my voice? Do you know what my themes are? Can you point to them? Anything you’re worrying about? Um, you can ask them for it.

Oh, I don’t know what happened.

Stacey: So sorry, Anna, that was a slight of hand on my part. No, did I last thought too early? I apologize. No, I don’t think you did. Amazing. Anna, thank you so much. Um, a lot of that advice is so good to hear and You know, sometimes it’s hard to put it into words. So, um, I do really appreciate the presentation that you gave.

Tonight, and now I’m really excited to get into the Q and a part of the webinar. Um, so. I hope you all found this information to be just as helpful as I did. Um, I just want to remind you that you can download the slides from the link in the handouts tab. Um, if you have a hard time finding that, um, just look to the right of your screen.

There should be a handout section. Now that we’re moving on to the live Q& A, I’ll read through any questions you have in the Q& A in the chat. Um, I’ll read them out loud. I’ll post them in the public chats for everybody to see and then Anna will have a chance to answer those as a heads up. If your Q and a isn’t letting you submit questions, just double check that you join the webinar through the custom link in your email and not from the webinar landing page.

So, with that, I’m going to go over to a question we have in the chat. This is a more specific question. Anna about one’s personal credentials. Um, what advice would you give to students who are wondering, is this enough? You know, is, is what I’m doing right now enough, um, in showcasing my abilities for Harvard?

Anna: Oh, that is the age old question with college applications. Sorry.

Stacey: Big question.

Anna: Yeah. Yeah. Um, I wish I could give you like a number, like, Oh, if you do 10 clubs, You’ll be good. You’ll get into Harvard. I can’t say that. That’s not how it works. Um, truly they’re looking holistically. So I think at the end of the day, what they want to see is in the time where adults aren’t telling you what you have to do.

So in the time when you’re not at school, what are you doing? How are you following your passions? Are you engaged in your community? If you can, if your answer to those questions is, Yes, I’m engaged. I’m following my passions. Good. Tell the story of that in your application. If you’re working on things you’re passionate about, it’s going to come through in your essays.

Admissions readers are the best BS spotters in the world because they’re doing this every day. all the time. They know if you’re writing about something you don’t care about, they can just tell. Um, so I’m sorry I can’t say like, yep, at this point it’s enough, but just follow what you’re passionate about, be engaged, and that will shine through on your application.

Stacey: Beautifully put. Um, yeah, I wholeheartedly agree. If you are Um, I think this goes back to what you said earlier, Anna, you know, what was the quote comparison? Is the thief of joy? Uh, absolutely. This rings true here. Um, the focus of your application should be you. Uh, and I think Anna said that so many times throughout the presentation.

Um, we really mean it. We really mean it when we say that we’re when we open an application. We are rooting for you. We want your narrative to be clear. We want to know who you are. And we want that to be, um, a unique narrative, which means yours, right? So just keep that in mind moving into any of your applications and your writing, right?

Um, this fall, um, do you Anna know of any good resources for essay editing and reviewing that are less powerful? Um, but any, you know, useful tips that people might be able to find easily.

Anna: Yeah. So for free, your guidance counselor is going to be your best friend. Also, any teachers who you trust. I, I think I had six of my teachers read my application essay, which might have been the best.

Um, but I was anxious. Teachers are there for you. Um, Beyond that, friends, family, um, you know, your parents network, they might have people. Um, I’ll also say, I believe CollegeAdvisors sometimes offers a la carte editing. Um, so if you don’t buy a full advising package with us, you might be able to submit just the Harvard Supplementals.

Um, I’m not, I’m not in marketing. I’m not on the sales team. I don’t know how that all works, but I believe it’s an option with us.

Stacey: Yeah, absolutely. Um, to re emphasize that too, there is absolutely a la carte essay editing with CollegeAdvisor. Um, definitely recommend, um, looking on the CollegeAdvisor website for those resources.

And I’ll actually go over, um, a free opportunity in a few moments. But I do want to Take a second to go through some more questions before we get to that. Um, Anna, can you talk a little bit about considerations for international students in the college application process? Is there anything because this is an essay writing workshop?

Is there anything that international students? might need to consider differently when writing their essays. Are there any tips that you might want to share in general?

Anna: Yeah, if you’re an international student and after reading all of your essays, I don’t know that, I think that’s a problem. So write about it, write about your experience, write about why you’re applying.

to college in the U.S. But beyond that, everything I said is the same. Tell a story. Use your unique voice. Um, and your story just involves international living.

Stacey: Amazing. Yes, absolutely. Um, I was actually waiting for this question to appear and I’m sure you know which one I’m already going to ask you. What are your thoughts on using an A.I. Tool like

Anna: That would be seriously frowned upon by a college, any college. And I believe if Harvard or any other university found out that you did that, even if they send you an acceptance letter and then they find out, I would expect them to revoke that acceptance. So I would, I would strongly advise against that.

I do not think the risks are worth it. I also think that’s selling yourself short. Colleges want to know who you are and they want to hear your voice, not ChatGPT.

Stacey: Absolutely. And as you know, admissions evolves in this very unique and different AI powered world we are in now, um, every university is taking a different approach to policies around using such tools, but for the most part, in my experience, undergraduate admissions are really looking for you to write your own essay.

Um, so great question. And thank you, Anna, for that answer. Uh, a question around the early action versus regular decision deadline. Does early action actually increase your chance of acceptance to Harvard? Do you know, do you have a sense of that, Anna?

Anna: So, I know what Harvard says, and I, I, I really believe they’re telling the truth about this.

Um, I don’t think they have an incentive to lie about it. They say, it is true that there is a higher acceptance rate among students who, apply restrictive early action. They also say that is only true because restrictive early action has more very strong students. in the sample pool than the regular decision deadline.

That makes sense if you think about it. It means if you’re applying restrictive early action, you’ve known for a while you want to go to Harvard, like you’ve known earlier than a lot of students and you’ve put the work in early. So it makes sense that those applications are going to be stronger on average than the regular deadline.

I would only advise applying restrictive early action if By the deadline, you feel good about your application. If you don’t, I think it could hurt you in the long run. Um, they say for any individual student, there’s no added benefit of applying early. The benefit of applying early is that you get the decision early, not that they look at you more favorably.

So apply when you’re confident in your application.

Stacey: I love that advice. Thank you, Anna. Um, and I’ll there is a key difference to I want to emphasize between early action and early decision. So, schools with early decision, those in those instances, your decision is binding. If you are. Admitted to that institution, and so whether or not that decision, or your chance of admission is increased because of your early decision application, maybe a very different conversation than an early action.

deadline because early action is not binding. So the university doesn’t have incentive, right? To, um, admit more students with the early action deadline versus regular decision, um, because it’s not binding in the same way that early decision is. So you’ll see both, um, when you are navigating the college admissions process.

Great. Um, So when it comes to my essay writing, I’m a student. Um, and I really feel like there’s a part of me that’s important. Um, but I feel like it’s more of a vulnerable side to myself. Um, the examples that the person asking the question includes are things like stage fright and social anxiety. Is it okay to share personal anecdotes that touch on those topics in my essays, Anna?

Anna: I think it would be great to talk about that. With the caveat, you should never write about something you’re uncomfortable sharing, right? So we all have some super personal things we might not want to share. That’s okay. But if you want to share about your experience with stage right, um, or maybe about a time where you feel like you failed something that you think might skew negative.

I encourage you to write about it because it’s on your mind for a reason and framing is everything. So, okay, you were doing theater and you had stage fright. What did you do? How did you work through it? How have you grown? What have you learned? And how is that going to help you in college and beyond? Um, so you can, you can tell about something vulnerable.

Just do it with a lens of what you learned and how you grew.

Stacey: Great. Yes. Thank you. Um, another. directly essay related question. What are your thoughts on purple prose? So prose that’s more flowery, you know, maybe prose that people might consider fluff. Um, in some instances, what are your thoughts on using that type of writing in the Harvard essay?

Anna: In the Harvard supplements, when you have 200 words, Um, I think being overly purple, to use, uh, the questions word, is going to make it hard for you to get much content out. 200 words is very short. Um, so, in general, I encourage students to, to be concise when they write. And if you, if you are a writer and you’re like, this is my voice, this is how I get my unique voice in here.

Do it. And I think it’s even more important than to have multiple rounds of feedback, to get other people’s perspective on it and ask explicitly, am I answering the question? Am I getting enough info about me as a person? across. So a gentle caution about purple prose, but I wouldn’t absolutely like roll it out.

Stacey: Great. Yeah, I agree. It does get to be extremely challenging in these short essays to keep that the hook that people are often so desiring of their essays. It’s very challenging to keep that introduction when so much of your other content isn’t very important to the admissions officer. Okay. Um, and that’s a good segue actually to another question that we had, um, in the pre registration.

How do you write a good hook, um, to get the attention of admissions officers? Do you have any advice around that? This is something I actually really struggle with, um, in advising students. Anna, what’s your experience like?

Anna: Yeah, it’s hard. I think it’s a bit of trial and error. I think just start writing and get feedback.

I find For a lot of my students, I’ll get to like paragraph three or four and I’m like, there, that’s your hook. That’s the beginning. Now, now you’re telling a story. Um, and I think we just have to go through that process of getting the words out until we find the story. And when you’re looking for the story, which I keep referencing, um, I explain it to my students as think about the books you read.

As children, um, or young adolescents. How do they hook children’s attention? They’re putting them directly in someone’s shoes, right? Whether it’s Bluey, or it’s been a while since I’ve been familiar with children’s characters, but they’re telling you exactly what’s going on for SpongeBob, right? You can see what’s happening, you can almost hear what he hears based on the writing.

So once you’ve reached a point, you know, as you’re writing this first draft where you notice, Oh, I’m describing. what I saw, heard, felt, thought. That’s where you start. And that doesn’t mean everything you wrote before it needs to be thrown out. A lot of it might be really valuable down below the story, but I think starting the story so that the reader is directly in your shoes is a really effective way to hook a reader.

Stacey: Amazing. Um, and really great advice. I’m again, so excited that we’re learning from you. Um, tonight and I do want to take a second. I alluded earlier to the fact that CollegeAdvisor does have a free opportunity that we wanted to emphasize today. Um, CollegeAdvisors team of over 300 former admissions officers and admissions experts is ready to help you and your family navigate the college admissions process and one on one advising sessions.

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That QR code is going to stay here on the slide as we continue on with our Q and a for the evening. Um, so with that, I wanted to ask a, uh. a little bit of a different question. It has nothing to do with the supplements themselves, Anna, but rather the, what the student phrased as the optional essay. So I’m imagining they’re talking about the additional information question that you might see on college applications, particularly the Common App.

Is it okay if you don’t fill that out? What, when is it appropriate to fill it out?

Anna: Yes, it is completely fine if you don’t fill it out. The time to fill it out is if after the personal statement, after all the supplements, There’s still something that you want them to know that hasn’t come through. Um, so maybe, maybe if it, for whatever reason, doesn’t come up in your personal statement, and COVID, the pandemic, really impacted your education, or your grades, or something like that.

Um, that might be something to put in the optional spot. Um, I, I don’t think any college is going to hold it against you if you don’t do the optional part. Uh, they’re already asking for a lot of writing from you and I think you have ample opportunity to get your full story out without using that. It’s there just in case.

You’re like, wow, I worked so hard and there’s still something missing.

Stacey: Absolutely, I totally agree. Um, a lot of my students also sometimes misuse that. Section, and they perhaps reiterate, um, information that’s already provided elsewhere on the application. Please try to avoid that. Um, because that does, you know, not bode well for their perception of you as a focused, you know.

Applicant who’s paying attention to the instructions, right? So something I do want to caution against as well. Um, but don’t be afraid to use the space either. If there is something that is missing. Um, I, we did have a question in the preregistration about. Um, if you’re interested in sports, you’re going to be pursuing sports at the college level.

Is there a different way you would approach these essays or is the advice essentially the same?

Anna: The advice for the essays is the same. Um, probably I would imagine one of your essays is going to mention the sport. Um, I would suggest that it does. Um, the application process, um, if you’re doing sports, I think some, sometimes the timelines are shifted a little bit because you’re going to be talking to coaches earlier.

Um, Like I believe in your junior year, um, but for the essays, nope, it’s the same.

Stacey: Awesome, great. Um, in terms of how long it takes to prepare the essays, how long do you think a student should set aside, how much time should they set aside to work on these essays? I know this is not an easy answer, Anna, but do your best.

Anna: Yeah! No, it’s not for a lot of reasons. One, we all write at different speeds. Um, I think it’s safe to say for everyone who submits a strong application to Harvard, they have spent hours. Hours and hours and hours on their essays, um, including everything we talked about, getting the feedback, doing the brainstorming upfront, figuring out what your brand is.

Um, so I would start, you know, we showed you the timeline, but start as early as you can. Um, and then the earlier you start sort of the, the more you can spread out all the labor.

Stacey: Absolutely. Um, I normally. I advise against starting too early. Um, I think there is such a thing as starting too early, right, Anna?

But I do think there’s some value in spreading out the time, like you said. Um, so that you’re not scrambling and then you can’t meet the deadline, that early action deadline that you might’ve wanted to meet. Um, so it’s definitely, and I usually advise starting before the start of the school year, because once the school year starts, All bets are off.

Um, I agree. And when I said

Anna: start as early as you can, I think what I was thinking of is that brainstorming and just the awareness as you’re walking through school and your clubs and all that, that by senior year, you are going to want to write essays about what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown. Um, So I don’t think it’s ever too early to start jotting down like memorable moments.

Um, but yeah, I wouldn’t start writing until like earliest junior year.

Stacey: That’s really helpful. Um, yeah, I think junior year is that sweet spot, right? Um, how, so I know we’ve talked, I talked a lot about the supplements and the holistic application review process was discussed earlier in the presentation.

Can you speak again, um, briefly about how important the supplements are to the overall application as one of those pieces of the holistic review?

Anna: Yeah, um, they’re gonna put equal weight on all of the essays, for sure. And, if it’s clear from the writing style, uh, from the thoughtfulness in them, that you’ve spent significantly more time on your personal statement, And it looks like, you know, you kind of threw together the supplemental essays at the last second.

I think they will notice that they’re very skilled readers. Um, so they’re going to put equal weight on all of them. And it’s important that the quality of writing and that your voice is similar across the personal statement and the supplemental,

Stacey: that’s actually a really, um, great piece of advice. It’s something that I.

Didn’t even consider, right, that, you know, while you’re writing, if you’re using, if you’re one of those students who wants to use an AI tool to write one of the essays, it’s going to sound very different than your personal statement or maybe one of the other essays when you didn’t use that tool. So definitely something to think about.

Um, do. On the same topic, um, are the supplements weighed as much as the personal statement? Are they all weighted equally, Anna? I

Anna: think they’re weighted equally. I really think they’re, they’re sitting down with your whole application, including the personal statement. and the supplementals and they’re reading them all at once.

So I want to be surprised at the end of the day if they don’t remember exactly which detail they read in which essay. Uh, it’s just a packet of information that represents you and they’re going to consider all of it equally.

Stacey: Awesome. Um, I know we touched on this briefly as well. Um, about when we talked about the Purple Crows question, does The essay have to be formal or is it okay to show your personality sense of humor?

What is that? I know that your voice you talk about your voice in your essay, right? Is it okay if that means that you’re making jokes?

Anna: Yeah. Humor is really difficult to write well. Um, in part because humor varies by age, by geography, by background, by economic class, by all sorts of different identities.

Um, and you don’t know who’s going to be reading your essay. So I, I don’t tell my students to like, Don’t do any humor. If that’s like who you are, you’re the class clown. That’s going to be in your voice cause it’s who you are and get feedback from a diverse group of people, from people older than you, from people from different backgrounds, see how it lands for them.

In terms of formality, like the general rules of English that you would apply in your school essays, I think you should apply here. So there is something, um, That’s too informal for a college application, right? It shouldn’t look like a text you would send or a tweet or X or whatever it’s called now. Um, it, it should be as formal as you’re School essays for high school.

Stacey: Great. Yes, I totally agree. Um, You definitely want those second, maybe third pair of eyes on that essay To ensure that if you are going to make a joke, it’s landing correctly. Um, similar question, slightly different. vocabulary usage. I’ve seen this a lot and in my review, um, students who are very verbose, very, um, well read will use a lot of what this person refers to as fancy vocabulary.

Is that good? Is that bad? What, what, is there a balance that should be established? What do you think?

Anna: I think first and foremost, read it out loud. If it’s, if it’s honestly not something you would say, then it’s. Too fancy to have in your admissions essay because it’s not your voice. They, readers are on the lookout for what I like to call SAT words.

So, especially if they’re kind of just like thrown in there, and it seems inconsistent. Uh, with the rest of your voice, I think that stands out. Um, so, if you talk genuinely, using fancy vocab all the time, then that’s your voice, and that’s going to be clear, because you’re going to do it consistently, but if that’s not how you talk, then I promise you, having read a lot of essays, that’s You’re not going to use fancy vocab consistently and it will stand out.

So again, just write how you speak. Let us hear your voice. That’s what they’re looking for.

Stacey: Amazing. Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Um, this is, I’m going to wrap up with a couple of questions around, um, topics that you’ve seen over time. What are some topics that you’ve seen that were, um, Really not well done, or maybe they were a common topic that didn’t hit well with it from an admissions perspective.

Are there topics you would recommend avoiding? Let’s talk about those topics that may be not so great to approach.

Anna: Yeah. To be honest, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this too. I don’t think I’ve read an essay where I thought, Oh, the topic is the problem. I think it’s often the framing. So I’ve read essays where people talk about really deeply personal, painful things.

Um, and you know, maybe the framing is like super negative. So I encourage them like, yeah, share, share the negative. Tell us how you felt. And then take us to how you grew through it. I’ve also read an essay, one sticks out in my mind of the student who just wrote about like a day at golf club. And it was the most like mundane moment, um, where someone said something and his brain just took off and it ended with.

Oh my god, I want to study philosophy. Um, so you don’t need to write about like this big flashy moment, and you can. In either way, how you frame it is really important. Show the reader where you’ve been, where you are, and where you want to go.

Stacey: Yeah, I love, I love that last piece of advice, especially my, um, my go to is think past, present, future, right?

Um, you always want to develop that roadmap for the admissions officer. I think, um, you know, if I’m in a pinpoint topic, specific topics, and I think, um, You know the sports essay where you know, they it was the top of the I don’t speak sports, but it was like Whatever And they made the basketball. I don’t know.

I’m i’m so bad at talking sports, but you get what i’m saying so that I think has Like from talking to other admissions officers been consistently something to maybe steer away from it doesn’t mean you can’t talk about sports That’s not what that means. It just means, you know, you have to be very focused be very Specific to your experience and your narrative.

Um, that’s unique to you in discussing sports. Um, And then I do think there are some essays I’ve read that have been about like breakups like personal breakups Or exes and things that is something that I’ve seen that I’m like, maybe we should steer away from that But I agree with you Anna that Um, the reason the reason why I’m saying steer away from it is because the purpose of the essays is the admissions officers want to know more about you and I said this throughout the presentation.

It is about you understanding what kind of student here alumni in the future you will be for that institution and what you’re going to bring to their community once they’re there. So you really want to think is what I’m adding to my application through this essay. Giving a, um, an impression to the admissions officer of what I have to bring to the table, right?

Yes, that experience might have been really important to you and shaping who you are But the question I always push my students to ask is so what right you’re telling this story. Okay, so what what does that mean? For the admissions officer and and a lot of the times with like those more personal situations They can’t necessarily get to the so what, so we have to, you know, rework it a little bit.

Um, there were, there was another relevant question to the discussion we’re having now. Um, what about hot topics like political topics? Anna, um, is it okay to talk about those? When is it okay to talk about those?

Anna: Yeah, politics, religion, that’s all on the table. And your essays are going to be read by a diverse group of people with diverse opinions.

So being respectful, number one, is so important if you’re talking about a difficult topic. Um, and if you’re talking about one of them, you need to have a reason to talk about it. If you’re talking about politics or religion. It needs to be because that is like an important part of who you are, or it’s part of an important experience you’ve had.

And then the focus It really should be on you and your relation to whatever political event or religious event that it was, not the actual politics. They don’t want an essay on your political opinions. If you’re writing about a political topic, they want the essay to be about how you interacted with your world.

While politics were relevant.

Stacey: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a tricky topic, which is why having a lot of essay eyes, uh, reviewer eyes on your essays is a good idea. In a final minute here, before we wrap up Anna, in a sentence, what was your college essay about? Do you remember?

Anna: Yes. My undergrad was about, um, a personal traumatic event I had as a kid and my law school one was really Where have I been?

Where am I now? Where am I going? Cause I went from clinical psych to law. So I had to really tell that story.

Stacey: Amazing. And yes, mine, um, mine was about theater. I was a theater kid. So that is a little bit about Anna and myself. We are so glad that you all joined us tonight, this afternoon, this evening, wherever you are.

That is the end of the webinar. We had a really great time telling you about the Harvard supplements. And, um, thank you so much, Anna, for being with us. Here is our November webinar series. Should you want to join us for future webinars, we do have a Yale Supplement Workshop on Sunday. I’ll be leading that.

Um, and there’s a few other great webinars coming up, including an MIT Supplement Essay Workshop. So please be sure to consider those and join us for those. Um, and we hope you all have a great rest of your day. Thank you, Anna.

Anna: Thanks for being here, everyone. Good luck.