The Ultimate Guide to Supplemental Essays

Join for “The Ultimate Guide to Supplemental Essays” hosted by admissions expert Nicholas Welch. Learn personal storytelling, decode essay prompts, and showcase your unique fit for your dream college.

Key takeaways from this webinar:

  • Understand why supplemental essays matter and how they help you shine in college applications.
  • Decode diverse essay prompts and structure your essays for maximum impact.
  • Craft compelling narratives that captivate admission committees.
  • Showcase how you align with college values, culture, and opportunities.
  • Refine and polish your essays through expert editing techniques.
  • Strategically plan and manage your essay writing process.

Join us for an enlightening session that will empower you to approach your supplemental essays with confidence and creativity. Secure your spot now and embark on the journey to crafting compelling narratives that set you apart in the competitive college admissions landscape.

Date 09/25/2023
Duration 1:00:01

Webinar Transcription

2023-09-25 – The Ultimate Guide to Supplemental Essays

Anesha: Hi everyone and welcome to tonight’s webinar. My name is Anesha Grant. I’m a senior advisor at CollegeAdvisor and I will be your moderator today. Today’s webinar is, “The Ultimate Guide to Supplemental Essays.” Before we get started, I just want to orient everyone with the webinar timing. Our presenter will introduce himself, share a bit about his experience, and then will give us some tips and tricks around navigating supplemental essays.

And then we will open up the floor to respond to your questions in a live chat. Q and a on the sidebar. You can download our slides under the handouts tab, and you can start submitting your questions whenever you get ready in the Q and a tab. Please only submit your questions through the Q and a tab.

Now, let’s meet our presenter. Nicholas. Hi, Nicholas. How are you doing?

Nicholas: Hi, they are doing well. Yeah. So my name is Nicholas. Um, I’m currently a law student at Duke. I did my undergrad at Stanford. I graduated last year. My major was Chinese politics. Technically, it’s called East Asian studies, but My emphasis was on China’s relations with Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Um, I was also the head copy editor at the Stanford Daily newspaper. Um, and I’ve, in my, I have somewhat of a gap year in between college and law school where I worked in D.C. doing various research things. So, there’s a little bit about me. I’ve also been with CollegeAdvisor for several years now and especially helping people with essays.

I’ve edited Hundreds of essays that y’all have sent in, and maybe I’ll edit some of them. Some of the essays of the Chinese in this webinar, too. So I’m looking forward to reading your stuff.

Anesha: Awesome. It’s great to meet you, Nicholas, and I’m excited to hear from you as I’m deep in the supplemental essay territory right now.

So looking forward to it. All right, before we let Nicholas get started, we are going to do a quick poll. So please let us know what grade you are in, just so we can have some context about where everybody is in their writing journey. Um, I’m currently at Stanford. Work here as a staff member, but I’m just wondering about your experience.

What were, what was for you the most challenging part of, of writing the essays, especially for a place like Stanford? Did that get in your head as you thought about the specific types of schools you were applying to?

Nicholas: Yeah. With Stanford, I remember some of their essay prompts were so broad, like what matters to you and why, and just, you feel like it’s a trick question and you have to get like reverse, reverse psychology there, um, yeah.

But I, yeah, with that essay, I remember I wrote about something, what matters to you and why I wrote about why I enjoy solving crossword puzzles, like super random and honestly not a huge part of my personality or daily life, but it was different enough. So more on that later, perhaps.

Anesha: Yeah, awesome. Um, I enjoy a good crossword puzzle myself.

So, um, understandable, relatable. I’m sure a few admissions officers were able to engage with that thoughtfully as well. Um, okay, we will go ahead and close our poll. And just so you know, the majority of folks with us, about 66%, are currently seniors. And then the next kind of third are, um, 11th graders. So we have mostly juniors and seniors with us.

And one, welcome to our singular 10th grader who’s here with us. Um way to get a head start on the process. All right I will be back a little bit later for the Q& A, but I will hand it over to you. Nicholas.

Nicholas: Perfect. Yeah. Well, let’s get started Let’s just talk about what supplemental essays are in the first place.

Um, not too complicated And honestly, I want to start just by giving advice about essays in general. Um, And just help us understand what what the purpose of an essay is. Um, When you submit your application You’ll have your grades and your transcript, and there’s very little you can do about that. That will just be what it is, and people will check for your academic excellence and whatnot.

Um, the point of an essay is to make sure you stand out among the other applicants. And specifically, um, your audience is toward an admissions committee member. They have a whole bunch of hired readers. And you have to get in their mind a little bit. And think, if I’m an admissions committee reader, I’m going to read, I don’t know, tens of thousands of applications over the course of an academic cycle.

And to be honest, that’s got to be pretty boring. Um, that’s got to be a tough job. If you read 200 essays before lunch, um, that’s really tough. So you want to, your goal in the essay is to write something, memorable about yourself that an admissions committee member is likely to remember by the time they go to lunch.

They’re going to go to lunch with their friends. They’re going to talk about the stuff they read because what else have they been doing that day? And they’re probably going to talk about one essay, and if they talk about yours, then that’s great. You’ve stood out. So the goal is to write something memorable and unique in genuine about yourself.

Um, so just keep that in mind as we go throughout this whole thing. Just keep your audience in mind. Um, Supplemental Essays in particular, um, I think they have two purposes. One is just to give you more opportunity to describe activities or things you’ve done. The other, I think, is to demonstrate interest in the college that you’re attending.

If, like, the essays are marked optional and you don’t do them. I don’t think that’s a very good signal to the university that you’re super interested in them. Um, so, it’s, in that way, it can be a useful sign to the college to see if you’d be a good fit. And that’s the other thing, that colleges have their own culture, their own vibes, and presumably the admissions committees will ask questions that they think are likely to help them determine if you’d fit the school’s culture and the school’s vibe.

Um, So, we’ll go on here. Okay. Yeah, I’ve talked about this a little bit already, but just, yeah, rehash it. Yeah, the purpose of these supplemental essays is just to give you more opportunity to say important things about yourself. Um, for those who haven’t opened up the Common App yet, um, there’s an activities section, and you have the opportunity to list 10 activities maximum, and you have 150 characters, not words, but characters to describe all the activities you did.

Every single activity and club and leadership role you held in high school is going to be boiled down to only 10 and only 150 characters for each one. That’s really not very many. Um, so this is your opportunity to explain one of those activities that’s on your list, or to I like something else that didn’t make the list.

Um, yeah. Again, the other point is just to be memorable and be unique. Um, you want to show, uh, admissions committees that you are a creative thinker, that you, uh, what’s the right way to say? Yeah, you Yeah, a creative thinker and you are an excellent writer. You can convey what’s inside of your head on paper.

So Yeah, are they required in an application? Like, there’s kind of two answers. Obviously, yeah, sometimes they’ll say optional, sometimes they won’t. Um, but, yeah, my advice is to do them all. You have nothing to lose. Um, and if you don’t fill out the supplemental essay, again, it’s not going to send a very good signal to that university that you’re very interested in them.

Um, so, yeah, main thing here, I’d, I’d, unless you can have a compelling reason not to do it, I’d say just go for it, and you can recycle essays and everything. So, we’ll take care of that. What kinds of questions are asked? Honestly, um, I would think about supplemental essays like an interview. Uh, the point of an interview, if you’re trying to get a job, is they want to, they want to test your skills, and they want to see if you’d be a good fit for a job.

their office or their company. It’s the same with the university. They want to see if you’re a good writer, if you’re a good thinker, and they want to see if you’d be a good fit for this university. Um, also they’re interested in, they want, there’s something called a yield rate, and every university to optimize its place in the rankings is going to want to have As many students as they admit attend the school, they maximize their yield rate.

So another thing that’s important to keep in mind here is, uh, what admissions coaches sometimes call demonstrated interest. In other words, if the college admits you to their school, how likely do they think you are to attend? If you can express to them that you’d be exceedingly likely to attend their school if you were admitted, that will also go a long way.

Um, and that’s, that’s what you’d see in an interview as well. If you’re interviewing for a job, you’d want your employer to feel confident that if they send you a job application, or a job offer, and they want to train you and um, give you a big paycheck every year, they’d want to know that you’d actually come to the company.

Um, otherwise they’ll keep on interviewing for other, other applicants. So it’s the same with colleges. Think of it like an interview. Now, let’s see, when should I start working on my essays? Yeah, my advice is to start early, because, yeah, in my experience, choosing your topic is super difficult. And, it’s, once you have, once you’ve chosen a topic, even if you don’t feel super good on it, a lot of times, the writing just flows once you’ve, once you’ve committed to something.

Um, it’s, so in that sense, it’s good to just be thinking about it, beforehand and you can, you can play around with ideas and sort of, yeah, you don’t have to write your essays, but just sort of brainstorm in your head. If I wrote an essay about such and such topic, what would that sound like and what I like that, would it really reflect who I am?

Uh, the other advantage to starting in the summer I think is, um, in the summer you don’t have as much going on. You don’t have to worry about standardized tests or AP tests or, um, exams or homework or anything like that. It’s, um, really long period of unconstructed time. So if possible, I would just, you don’t have to write out your essays in the summer, but I would brainstorm and try to get a good sense for what topics you want to say and write about.

Um, because then once your senior year starts, um, you’ll be busy. Um, and I’m sure all the seniors in here know that and the time crunch is approaching. So. That would be my advice there. Now, if you didn’t start in summer, that’s fine. You’ve got plenty of time before November 1st, which is when many applications are due.

Um, the other thing I would say is, uh, give it to people you trust to read. I wouldn’t say give your essay to everyone to read. You can’t deal with too much advice, but give it to people who know you. And, I think the feedback you’re looking for, beyond just the grammatical stuff, is, if someone reads that essay, Does the person think, oh, yeah, that sounds like him or her?

Oh, yeah, I read that essay and that totally sounds like the student. That’s the kind of essay you want. If you write an essay in your mom or your teacher or your friend reads the essay, that really doesn’t sound like you at all. That’s a good indication that perhaps you should reconsider some passages or the topic altogether.

You want it to sound like you. Authenticity. Again, if you’re an admissions reader, You read tens of thousands of essays. They can spot authenticity in a millisecond. So, keep that in mind. Keep

Anesha: going here. Okay. We are going to give you a quick break, Nicholas, just to take another poll. So, speaking of timing, let us know where you are in the application process.

Have you started? Are you currently working on your essays? And I love what you shared about, um, checking in with folks for voice. I normally tell my students in some of my classes, Sometimes during some of our meetings, I have them actually read their essay aloud in order to make sure it’s in their voice, especially if you’re tripping over the words or things sound funny coming out of your mouth.

That’s also a good sign that it may not be in your most authentic voice as well.

Nicholas: Yeah, good pro tip. I do that with a lot of my writing, even just an essay for class. You read it out loud and you discover what sounds funkier, clunkier. So for sure,

Anesha: and then some are also a really, really great pro tip. I actually have some of my juniors already started to work on the personal statement, which might be very, very early, but we’re doing practice.

So, we know it’s not the final version, but and then even for supplementals, even though they don’t technically come out until August. It’s just starting to write why this college type of essays and brainstorming for that so that it all doesn’t kind of hit you right before senior year. So a lot of, yeah, a lot of different strategies in order to maximize your time and maximize your summer as well.

All right, we’ll go ahead and close our poll. So the majority of folks, it seems to be, are actually currently working. Yeah, and the essays about 38 percent some folks are still researching schools. Research is really, really critical again to the point of demonstrating interest and really letting schools know that you are passionate about them, have details to share there and then some folks are getting their materials ready.

Shout out to the 2 people who are almost done. Congrats. I hope you’re able to submit soon. Um, but okay, that is our full. I will hand it back over to you. Nicholas.

Nicholas: Yeah, good. Yeah. It looks like most of us in the, in this webinar right now are, yeah. Yeah. Currently researching schools or working on your essays and yeah, that’s a perfectly fine place to be right now.

Got plenty of time. It may not seem like it, but you got plenty of time. So let’s keep going. The, the next, uh, next sections I’m going to discuss are just go through some of the typical supplemental essay prompts and try to give Somewhat specific or tailored advice about each one. Uh, I think there’s going to be a lot of overlap as I discuss these, um, because the guiding principles about college essays are really the same.

Um, we’ll start here. Why school? Why do you want to go to X university? Um, yeah, I’ve read a lot of good essays here and a lot of bad ones. Um, it’s, it’s, it’s a hard balance to find because on the one hand, you want to research the school thoroughly, meaning that you want to prove to the university that you’ve looked into them and you’re not just passively interested or not just interested in them for the name brand.

Um, on the other hand, again, you want to be authentic and it’s really easy to tell if you’ve just Google searched every club the university has and just slapped it on a big list. Um, and so it’s, you want to find that balance between, you know, you want really going deep, and also, uh, not just making a list.

The reason that’s important is, when you’re writing your essay, it’s another guiding principle about all of this, is that, um, something you should ask yourself when you finish an essay is, could someone else plausibly have written this essay? Um, that’s a good, that’s a good question to ask if you want to make sure that your essay is actually unique to you.

Um, anyone can say it. Uh, I would love to join such and such club at the school. That takes no effort. Um, that takes no authoritative backing. But if you, if your application shows a demonstrated interest in some subject area and then you say I want to join this club because that’s much more compelling.

Um, so in that sense, yeah, make sure you’re always asking is this is this essay unique to me? Uh, the other thing, uh, a lot of people have asked me over the years just is it necessary to visit the school. Um, I would say definitely not. Um, on the other hand, if you do visit the school, I would definitely mention that.

That can go a long way. Obviously the admissions committees are sensitive that obviously a very small percentage of prospective uh, matriculates will be able to visit the school in person. But if you do, that’s a great thing. If you don’t, it’s not, um, that’s not a deal breaker and not necessary to show demonstrated interest.

Um, Um, The other thing I’d recommend here for crafting a Y School essay if you can, is just to talk with a current student or someone who’s attended the school recently, and see if you can write an essay that really is tailored to the culture of that school. And I can’t give any more specific advice now, because I can’t, I can’t encapsulate what every school’s culture is like, but if you can, for example, University of Chicago has a, yeah, sort of specific, like, Yeah, nerdy, anti sports, ultra creative kind of culture.

Um, and it would be good to know that, and that can inform the style or the way you write your essay. So, um, there’s an example of something, but try to get a sense of the culture there. Um, we’ll go to next one here. An extracurricular essay. So this, yeah, example prompts will be something like, yeah, Describe.

What activity you’ve done, and why it’s important to you, or like, in the Stanford case, like, what matters to you and why, you could make that an extracurricular essay. Um, yeah, my advice here, this is another general, uh, principle for writing college essays, but I think it applies particularly well here. The idea is that you should show, not tell.

Um, again, anyone can say, Yeah, I am a patient, hard working person. Um, that takes no effort. And actually the problem when you say something like that is, you come off as not patient and hard working. Hard working people don’t announce to the world that they’re hard working. They just work hard and people observe them working hard and then they learn, oh yeah, that person works hard.

It’s the same here. Um, you don’t want to say, oh yeah, I Yeah, I am very diligent in being my student body president. Like, that takes no effort. You want to tell a story that demonstrates that you are diligent without saying the words, I am a diligent student body president. Um, so that’s, yeah, again, that’s, that’s for everything.

Show, don’t tell. Yeah, I’ll probably send advice along those lines to more than half the essays I edit this coming cycle. Uh, so, see if you can avoid that. But just, yeah, you want to tell a story, you want to narrate. Um, yeah. And in, with extracurricular, this is true of all supplemental essays, the word counts are pretty short.

It’s not going to be 650 words. It’s going to be 100 and 200. So you’ll have time to tell probably one story. So you should tell one story, and why it was significant to you. Um, and that should get you going there. Let’s keep going. Next one. A strong community essay. So these kind of prompts are similar in some ways to the why university essay in the sense that it has overlap between like, to what extent would you fit with the culture or the vibe of this university.

Um, other prompts sound like uh, write a letter to your roommate, uh, and explain what you’d offer to this, to your roommate or Something, something like that. So there, there are many variations of a community essay. Um, this is where I also, I, I’d recommend talking to someone if you can, who’s attended that school.

Um, obviously you can’t, if you’re applying to ten schools, it’s super unreasonable to reach out to ten different people and try to exactly tailor everything. It’s just too much work. Um, but to the extent possible, you can do that. Um, yeah, again, I would narrate here. I would tell a story about, uh, community that you’re currently in and, um, why you think your role in that community would translate well to being in a community at the university you’re applying to.

Um, I think that’s the best way to do it. You say, again, anyone can say, I want to be in the robotics community at ABC university. Um, that’s not very compelling because anyone can write that sentence. Uh, you want to describe how you’ve already been in a community. And you’ve worked hard to be there, and it’s important to you for the following reasons.

You can translate, even if it’s not the same community at the school you’re attending, you can translate those principles that you, I don’t know, your leadership abilities, or your ability to appreciate diversity of experience and things like that. So, that’s what I’d say for how to craft community essays.

Moving on here, an idiosyncratic essay. Yeah. Here’s another guiding principle about all college essays, but it works especially well for this one. Uh, there are no bad topics. Yeah, like I said earlier in the beginning of this of this webinar, I wrote one of my essays about solving crossword puzzles. That’s not particularly impressive.

A lot of people solve crossword puzzles, but it, I wasn’t, I didn’t Get favorable reviews on that essay because it was about crossword puzzles and that’s so cool. I got good reviews on that essay because I talked about crossword puzzles in an interesting way. Um, so that’s it. If you, yeah, if you tell a story about landing on the moon, really boring, that’s not going to go a long way.

But if you tell a story about tripping and falling down the stairs of your apartment, But you tell it in a funny, hilarious way. That’s gonna go much farther. So, there are no bad topics. You can really choose anything. That’s true of all essays. It’s especially true for this one. Um, and again, you want to narrate.

You want to use stories to, um, to make an impact here. And last thing here is, yeah, last bullet point is to stay genuine. Avoid trying hard to be too different. Yeah, of course, um, One of the guiding principles I’ve discussed is you want to, you want to be unique, you want to be different, in the sense that you want your reader to remember you by the time they go to lunch.

On the other hand, it’s possible to take everything too far. Everything in excess can become an evil. So, uh, just make sure, yeah, you can write something quirky, but as long as it, again, that’s where your friends can help you. Give it to a friend, they say, oh yeah, that sounds like you, you’re in the safe.

Here we go. Strong challenge essay. This will be, yeah, these essays are going to be especially relevant, especially given the recent Supreme Court decision about affirmative action. Universities are going to look for other ways to try to spot ways to fill their diversity quotas and whatnot in the university system.

So, um, again, same thing here. Show, don’t tell, and tell a story. Um, I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but, yeah, you don’t want to say, yeah, my life is so difficult, or, yeah, growing up in such and such a place is hard. Anyone can write those sentences. Instead, tell a story about it. Tell a story about why growing up in such and such a neighborhood is hard.

Um, And perhaps you don’t have, like, any, like, earth shattering challenges in your life. Um, you don’t have, like, classic, I don’t know, family troubles, or financial troubles, or anything like that. Maybe your life is pretty good, and it’s hard to think of a challenge essay that you think would, like, rise, um, to this occasion.

For that, I would, I would go back to what I said in the previous slide. There are no bad topics. It’s all about your approach. Uh, you don’t, if you have a, uh, compelling and, like, horrific challenge that you’ve overcome, that can be a great essay. It doesn’t have to be a terrible challenge you’ve overcome, though.

It could be a little thing, but your approach is creative and effective. Those are all good. So, don’t, yeah, I would say avoid, like, over victimizing yourself. Because everyone’s going to be attempting to do that. So try to be, try to be different in that sense. And make sure the moral of this essay isn’t I’m a victim.

It is I can overcome and I can do anything. Let’s see. Short answer essay. Yeah. Some colleges will ask essays that are like Describe yourself in 5 words. Or, yeah. In 30 words or less. Describe Describe something the world is missing, or it’s like very difficult, um, very difficult essays to answer. I think you’ll find that even those short essays can take as much brain power and effort and time as the longer 600 word essays, or just because every word counts.

I think, um, I would try to think of answering these essays is like poetry. Poetry is the right words in the right place. Every word matters in poetry. The reason English majors can go nuts over short poems is because it’s permissible to overanalyze every single word and its meaning and its placement.

And you can kind of think about it in the same way here. You have very few words, And your admissions readers expect you to use every word very quickly, or very, um, effectively. And on that, I’d say, I think it’s a good look if you use, um, if you fill out most of your word count. Obviously, it’s not required to, but if you, if you write very efficient, clean sentences, and then you approach the word count, I think it’s true of all essays, um, that’s going to be impressive.

That means you have a lot to say. Um, don’t, obviously don’t write fluff to fill up the word count. The readers can’t stand fluff, because again, they read thousands of essays a year. Um, I would, yeah, especially true here. Every single word is going to count. And if you feel like, oh, these should be so easy, just 30 words, I’ll be done quick, um, you might be in for a surprise.

So give yourself as much time on these essays as you would other ones. Uh, because they can be, they can be difficult to convey exactly what you want them to. I got so many essays, my goodness. So, additional information. Um, this is strictly optional. Notwithstanding everything I’ve said before, this kind of additional information essay is strictly optional.

This is looking for things like, you have straight As and then one C Um, you might want to write a brief explanation for why that C is there. Otherwise it looks kind of weird. Or, you could, yeah, you took Spanish 1 and Spanish 2, and then junior year, you didn’t take Spanish 3, you took it senior year. And maybe, you just, I don’t know, if you feel insecure about that for whatever reason, you can, you can write something.

Um, it’s looking for those kinds of things. Or, it’s looking for, I don’t know, I, my parents had a terrible divorce in my sophomore year, and this affected why I, I didn’t participate in any extracurriculars that year. Something like that. This is not a place to write another personal statement. This is not a place for creativity or inspiration or anything.

This is strictly a factual record. Like, you’re just writing up an affidavit to give to someone. Here are the facts of what happened. And here is some context that you might need to know. So, um, The additional information here, uh, if you don’t fill it out, don’t worry about it. If, if you don’t feel like you have anything to justify or explain, don’t worry about that, that’s not going to count against you.

So, I think that’s about all. Okay, now we’re on to just general tips. Uh, can you reuse essays? Absolutely can. Um, that will save you lots of time. I applied to ten schools when I was a senior. There was no way I’m going to write new essays for every single one. It’s just, it’s too much. Um, The thing you want to make sure you do is, first of all, um, this actually happens, uh, you just copy paste an essay and you don’t change the name of the university.

You’re applying to Stanford and you say, oh, I want to go to Harvard so bad because, um, that’s a terrible look. Um, don’t make that kind of noob move. But, as well, it’s, um, I would recommend tailoring each essay so that it fits the prompt. The admissions readers expect you. to answer the question that the prompt asks.

Obviously, there’s a lot of flexibility there, but your essay, it should be obvious that your essay is answering that specific prompt. So, make sure you’re answering the question. And if that requires tailoring, it’s going to be way quicker than writing a new essay from scratch, and will save you a lot of time and a lot of headaches.

So, I’d recommend reusing essays. Um, I think, um, Every, every admissions reader expects that to be done. So, don’t feel guilty about that. Uh, but just be careful. And, final advice. I think, Yeah, I have three bullet points there. We’ve, we’ve gone over a lot of guiding principles. You want your essay to be remembered by lunch.

That’s remembering your audience. You want to stand out. Is, you want to be memorable. You want to be unique. There are no bad topics. Your approach is everything. You want to show, not tell. Because, yeah, diligent people don’t announce their diligence, they show their diligence and people know that they are.

Um, you want to write efficiently and cleanly and demonstrate interest. I think, yeah, they all seem kind of obvious when you hear them, but when you step away sometimes it’s so easy to forget and get distracted from most of this. Yeah, keep in mind all these guiding principles of writing an essay. And I think That will be okay for now.

So we’re on to part two.

Anesha: Yes, thank you so much, Nicholas. That was great. Thank you for giving a great overview of all the different types of essays. You started to get exasperated by how many different types of essays there were. There are a ton. So I know you can relate to the students. All right, we are going to switch over into our Q& A section.

You can, just a reminder that you can download the slides from the handouts tab if you want to have a refresher of all the great tips that Nicholas shared. We’re going to move on to the live Q& A. The way that it will work is that you can submit your questions via Q& A. In a tab, I will read them aloud and then paste them into the public chat so that everyone could see them and then give Nicholas an opportunity to answer them.

If you are having any challenges with submitting questions, you might have to double check that you logged in through your email and not through the webinar landing page. You might have to log back in, log out and log back in in order to submit questions, but we have some questions already coming in.

And the 1st. Question for you, Nicholas, is what are some of the most common mistakes that you see people make with supplemental essays? I can imagine one of them being not changing the school when they read it.

Nicholas: Yeah. Luckily that’s not super common, although it does happen. So although it’s imperative to check, you make sure the essay is specific to that school, especially for like a, why such and such school, I say, uh, very important to make sure that’s tailored.

Those are the hardest to reuse. Um, I think, yeah. I’m not sure if there are any specific mistakes I see with supplemental essays in particular. I think I just want to just go back to the guiding principles. The most common mistake that I see is when people just try to, to tell the answer. Like, this isn’t a test where you just, you have to write the right words and tell the teacher what the answer is and you get full points.

Um, this isn’t that kind of project. Um, The idea is to demonstrate, like you have to prove to the reader that you are the person you say you are. And the only way to do that is by telling a compelling story. And you just, you demonstrate an experience. Obviously, the reader is going to assume the story you tell us is close to the truth.

Uh, they can’t verify that, but, um, yeah. Honestly, I, more often than not, I’ll send back an essay and just say, Thank you. Bye. You need to show and not tell. Uh, the essay has no power. It falls flat. If you just Tell me what you think you are, what you’ve done. You have to show it. So that’s how I’d answer that question.

Anesha: Yeah, I think that’s a solid response. Um, the next question is specifically, so, uh, the student says, do you have tips for math majors who may not have strong writing skills? So people who lean more towards, um, not as strong in the humanities and have to do all this writing.

Nicholas: Yeah, for sure. That’s, uh, that was definitely me.

I, luckily, I had a wonderful English teacher my junior and senior year of high school, but before then, I thought English classes were terrible and writing was a drag. Um, so I’m totally in that, in that math camp myself. Honestly, the, um, I’ll speak first to the people who aren’t currently writing college essays.

Um, if you’re, if you’re a junior, You, you still have plenty of time to improve your writing skills dramatically. And the only way to improve your writing skills is to read a lot and to write a lot. Um, there is no shortcut to becoming a better writer. You just have to, uh, fill yourself with good writing.

And so just find excellent written books. And then you have to practice writing. And, uh, an effective way to do that is just to Keep a journal. If you don’t know what to write about, just write about yourself. Uh, write about what you did. And, it doesn’t have to be good, but just, the more you write, the better you will get.

It’s just, it’s how it works. It’s just like anything else. To my knowledge, there is no shortcut. Um, ChatGPT cannot write anything remotely compelling. Uh, it just, if you invest the time now, uh, Then it doesn’t matter what kind of brain you are, you can improve your writing for sure. And I can speak from experience there.

Yeah. To the seniors, uh, who feel like they don’t have strong enough writing skills and inner math brains. Yeah. You’re, you probably can’t read enough books and write enough within a month to like get your writing skills to where you think they are. I would just say, don’t, don’t worry about it too much.

Your writing skills are what they are. Um, it’s again, there are no shortcuts, but, um, I, I go back to one of my principles I said earlier, it’s just there are no bad topics and your approach is everything. And, you’re, on your application, it’s going to be, if you’re that math brain kind of person, it might be kind of obvious that you are that kind of person.

And, uh, admissions readers aren’t going to be naïve or blind to that about you. Um, and, I think, yeah. I think there are people with math brains, their brain works in really beautiful ways. And they can, they can connect the dots in ways that other hyper creative people couldn’t do. Um, so I just, yeah, just be, just be optimistic and see your skills in the most favorable light.

And don’t worry about it too much because I just, just in general, don’t worry about things that you can’t control. And you, you really can’t control this very much anymore and that’s fine. So don’t worry about it. It is what it is. And just try to leverage the strengths that you have, which I think are remarkable and beautiful.

And let’s see what you can come up with, have a creative approach to say that otherwise might be boring.

Anesha: Uh, from your lips to teenagers years about don’t worry about things you can’t control. Um, but hopefully that message sinks in with this process. I just wanted to echo the reading and writing a lot. I have.

I encourage my students to journal and sometimes I try to get them to read. Short personal narratives or like op-eds, especially for folks who don’t like reading. So trying to find short, shorter readings or shorter personal stories that they can see as models, um, rather than something long that they may not be as interested in.

Um, just wanted to double up on that advice. Um, the next question for you is, uh, the student was asking how should you research a college deeply, especially trying to answer those why this college type of essay.

Nicholas: Yeah, great question. The internet is going to be your friend. Um, you can go to and spend a lot of time there. I definitely did that myself, just a lot of time on the university’s actual website. Um, you can go, so this is a double edged sword. Um, forums like Reddit are super helpful, um, for getting a sense of community vibes and the type of student that goes there. Reddit is terrible.

for college admissions advice. Um, so if you’re gonna go on Reddit, that’s totally, it could be super useful, but don’t be asking the Reddit crew, um, what a good essay looks like because there’s some stupid answer, like my mom’s cousin’s best friend’s boyfriend knew an admissions officer in Princeton, and he says the thing they’re looking for is X.

Like, no, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Like, that’s all garbage. Um, so you can, you can really, uh, destroy a lot of brain cells by spending the time in the wrong places in Reddit, but I think, yeah, online forums are going to help you get a sense of, uh, student culture and vibes. So I think, yeah, assuming you can’t visit the university in person, which I think is going to be the case for most of you, for most of the schools you apply to, it’s, yeah, we live in this great era where the internet has all the answers.

And, just, just spend a lot of time there. And, you can connect with all kinds of people. Um, one other thing I’ll say is, you can read, uh, newsletters. Universities have a bajillion newsletters. They have a, their general newsletter, they have an alumni newsletter, they have newspapers, they have, like, like newspapers dedicated to specific departments.

Each department has their own email blast of events that are going on. If you can get access to some of those. Um, that’s going to tell you a lot about what the school is doing, what they’re up to, who the, what kind of famous people are visiting campus, um, what events are going on, uh, who’s winning or losing in sports, those kinds of things.

Uh, and that’s all done. Universities are swimming in money, and they spend a lot of money for publicity like that. So, um, that’s what I’d say. Yeah, go to the, the main website, try to get on their, their website. Yeah, the newsletters and then, yeah, reddit or similar for, um, although be careful,

Anesha: I’d also recommend info information sessions.

That’s sometimes a way to just learn a little bit more about what the school is saying about itself. And then that might lead you to more specific sections of the website. It’s in order to look for specific programs or things like that. So, um, one more resource there. Uh, this next question is, how do you make yourself stand out specifically and talking about how to fit into the college community?

Nicholas: Yeah, that’s such a devious question. My goodness, because, yeah, very well said. Um, I would say, yeah, I’ll just repeat it. Um, your approach is everything. So, um, yeah, what I mean by that is, um, For the, yeah, I want to fit into the certain community. It’s super easy to say something like, Oh, I, yeah, as you can see, my resume has three activities related to such and such club.

Therefore, um, I will be a great fit in this community. And that’s, I don’t know if you’re crunched on time, you could say that. Um, but you can, if you’re clever, you can think of a creative way to express the same idea. Um, Because the essay is, yeah, the, the readers are looking for content, but they’re also, they pay a lot of attention to your approach.

And if you can, if you can explain the same idea, but in a creative, memorable way, then, then that’s something that’s going to be memorable. And they’re going to talk about that at lunch. Like, this person, yeah, had this, this, this clever, insightful way of explaining why she’d fit in, yeah, such and such community organization at her school.

And Yeah, I like that. I remember that. So again, I can’t get more specific than that because there’s Too much diversity of the universities and communities to talk about. But, um, yeah, your approach is everything.

Anesha: Yeah, I one tip that I sometimes gives is like thinking about how you contribute to your current community.

And are there simple ways to contribute to the college community in that same way? So if there are activities you do there, are there activities you can do at the college that mirror that, so that you can say, I’ve done this here. I want to continue doing it there. Um, but I think students sometimes push to be super unique, and I don’t know if there’s going to be this one standout amazing thing that you do.

So just making sure you’re talking about your own personal perspective. So you are unique. And so just you, you are the best way possible.

Nicholas: Your uniqueness doesn’t necessarily come from the things you do. A lot of it will come from the way you explain the things you do. So, yeah,

Anesha: exactly. I love that. Um, okay.

Um, this next question, I feel like we get a lot when we talk about essays, are there topics you think we should not talk about?

Nicholas: Yeah. Anything. If you think some topic is cliche, it probably is. And you should avoid cliche at all costs because an admissions reader. who’s going to read thousands, is going to want to pull her hair out when she encounters cliché.

Um, so if you yeah, yeah, I don’t know, what’s an example of cliché? Just, yeah, as

Anesha: A lot of athlete essays are just sort of like the struggling athlete. It becomes very cliche. I heard a lot of admissions officers would be like, I can’t read one more essay about, um, a football player doing something or missing a field goal.

Something like that.

Nicholas: Yeah. When I heard my Achilles tendon snap, I just sunk in the grass with disappointment. Like you probably shouldn’t open your essay and sound like that. Um, so yeah, honestly, I don’t want to say much more than that. Like there is. There are no bad topics. That’s actually a true statement.

Um, but there are bad ways to address topics. And the, the worst way is through cliché. So if something is cliché or likely to have been said by many, many applicants, I would avoid that.

Anesha: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t want to scare people away from if there’s a football player who wants to talk about their injury.

Please feel free that you can talk about. Just make sure you talk about it in a unique way or you’re trying to think about your specific experience, your approach at it. So nothing to avoid with making sure you’re coming at it and talking about your specific experience, your unique experience in that route.

Okay. Oh, this is a, I guess something regarding additional information. So is it, is it very important to explain or prioritize, um, any deviation in grades amongst, um, you know, within, within supplemental essays? Is it important to try to tackle that grade drop in the supplemental essays?

Nicholas: Yeah, I think it’s, the answer is it depends.

Um, I think if you’re, if you’re transcript, transcript looks something like all A’s and then one C, yeah. I think that’s, that’s probably a very clear example of where explaining context could be important. Um, but even if you don’t, even if you didn’t explain context there, it probably wouldn’t be counted against you because they just, like they know you’re a good student and they know high school teachers are weird and there’s gonna be a weird, like an oddball teacher at every school.

So, I think it, yeah, it really depends. If it, if you, if you’re feeling insecure and you don’t know what to say, I think. Yeah, it, it will be fine. I, I, I wouldn’t stress about the additional information too much. Um, it’s not, I don’t think, and this is my opinion, I don’t have any like, um, special insight into the, the mind of an admissions reader, but I don’t think anything you say in additional information is going to be a game changer on your essay.

So, in that sense, I just want to worry about it very much if it makes you feel better, just so when you’re you submitted the application and you’re not sleeping because you’re stressed, like, what are they doing? If it helps you sleep better at night, knowing that you told them something, then that’s Then that’s fine.

Just do that. Um, but yeah, you don’t say anything. That’s also totally fine. So I, I really just want to worry about it too much.

Anesha: Yeah, I’ve heard some admissions officers say, like, the best way to address a low grade is to have an improved grade next semester. So if there’s a C out there in a math class to have a B or an A, the next semester is showing that growth and improvement.

And so you may not need to step back and address the C. Okay, we’re going to take a quick little PSA before I do Lena and our troop. Your questions are a little bit confusing to me. So if you could attempt to reword them, that would be helpful. Um, and I will try to address them and get them into Nicholas.

But, um, before I do that, um, I just want to take a quick PSA for anyone who is in the room and not already working with us. We know that the process is overwhelming. You have a lot of questions. You want to get a lot of feedback and we have a team of. Okay. Over 300 former admissions officers and admissions experts who are ready to help you and your family navigate the process through one on one advising sessions.

So you can use the QR code that is on the screen right now to sign up for a free 45 to 60 minutes strategy session with an admission specialist on our team. During that conversations, we will review your extracurriculars, your talk about application strategy, discuss how everything lines up with your college list and outline some tools.

For you to stand out in the competitive admissions world. All right. So I wanted to share that resource with you all. We’ll leave the QR code up and we will get back to our questions. So my next question for you, um, well, you kind of talked about this. And so if you can go, I guess, drill into it a little bit more.

To what degree will my essay determine whether or not I get it?

Nicholas: I think it will have a ginormous impact, um, because your transcript and GPA and AP scores, honestly, I think what colleges are looking for Are you, do you meet the threshold level of academic performance we’re looking for? That’s all so numerical, and they’ll put everyone on a spreadsheet, and they’ll just try to, to calculate, um, you know, based on the stats, and where they want to be in the rankings, and funding, and all these kind of things.

Um, it’s going to come together, and it’s going to be very numerical. Um, and after they sort all that out, then they’re going to read the essays to, um, Uh, that’s going to be the thing left, and I think, especially for elite schools, there are no grades good enough to guarantee acceptance. So, in that sense, your essays are very important.

Um, schools receive way too many applicants, applications from students with definitely good enough grades. And that creates a problem for everyone, because They have only so many seats, and in theory they have plenty of qualified people academically to go. So, essays I take very seriously, because that is going to make a big difference.

Uh, especially at the, the higher end schools.

Anesha: Um, I’m trying to sort through some of these questions. And so I think the student is asking about they are trying to blend different majors. Um, seemingly, and they’re like, why this major, um, essay. And so I don’t know if you have specific tips on, like, how they can talk about the student in particular, talk about entrepreneurship and engineering.

So how can they kind of explore their diverse academic interests in a thoughtful way? Um, if you have any guidance or tips there.

Nicholas: Yeah, good question. Um, I’ll say first that you should feel no pressure to declare your intentions or your future career at this point. Um, yeah, maybe I’m not a very good person to answer this question.

On my application, I said undeclared, no idea. For all those, all those areas where I said like, yeah, what major do you want to do or what department are you applying for? I said I have no idea. Um, and my, my I had some pretty good outcomes. So I like, it’s not necessary to know what you want to do, especially in any specific sense.

Um, college is fully expect that you’ll change your mind many times over the course of four years. So don’t, if you do know what you want to do, that’s perfectly fine and you can go for that. But just to, to those who don’t feel that way, there’s absolutely no reason why you must. Declare it like determined interest in something you’re totally fine without.

Um, yeah, what was the, the question is blending entrepreneurship and

Anesha: yeah, this person is specifically talk about engineering and entrepreneurship and how to talk about, you know, bringing those two ideas together for their study.

Nicholas: Yeah, maybe, yeah, maybe I’m like precisely the wrong person to answer this question.

Uh, in my own journey, I didn’t do anything like that. I would say, yeah. If you’re not with CollegeAdvisor, uh, you can change that. And just, I, I just talk with people and go over your resume, and, and what you’ve done, and come up with a, a narrative that tries to tie it all together. You want to show, not tell.

You don’t want to, um, Yeah, I’m not sure what more to say.

Anesha: Yeah, no, that’s not, it’s a rough question. Um, I would think, I think my advice would be even for undecided or for folks who are trying to blend different things is also just to explain to the college what you’re interested in figuring out, like what are the questions you have or what are the topics that you’re fascinated by between those different, you know, even if it’s, if you’re undecided.

What are all the different things you want to explore at this school? What are some of the majors you would try out? Um, so yeah, trying to blend for the engineering entrepreneurship. Most of my students who have pursued something like that are usually into social entrepreneurship. So I’m not sure if that’s what you’re leaning towards with like using engineering for, for the good of others.

Um, but yeah, you need to talk to a specific advisor. In order to kind of drill down deep so we could give you more, uh, thoughtful responses in the time that we have. Um, I think this student was saying, is, is reading essay review, will it be helpful to actually read, um, essay reviews or essay feedback? So those breakdowns where they talk about why an essay was good, are those actually helpful resources in understanding how to approach an essay?

Nicholas: Um, maybe. My advice would be Like don’t read too many like model essays. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a model essay In fact if if there’s an essay that’s circulating online That’s apparently the model essay odds are there to be thousands of people who write similar essays And then it’s not a model essay because it’s precisely not serving its purpose So I’d be careful there to be honest I think the best way to learn from college essays is to read really bad essays You And figure out why they’re bad.

Um, and identify all the places where they just tell and don’t show. Identify all the cliché, all the grammar mistakes. I think you can learn a lot more from reading terrible essays than you could from good essays. You

Anesha: can learn what not to do. Yeah. Okay. This next question is under what circumstances should you include or reference your personal statement in a supplemental essay?

Nicholas: Um, yeah, I mean, I suppose there are circumstances. My gut advice is probably not just because, um, then you’re missing. So, obviously, um, your essays will be read altogether. Um, you, your reader probably won’t read your personal statement and then come back to the essay two months later. They’re gonna read your whole thing all together so they’re gonna, they’re gonna know who you are.

Um, so in that sense I would I would discourage like explicitly mentioning, like I wouldn’t say something like as I mentioned in my personal statement because that’s I don’t know, six or seven words that are used up that you could say other things. Um, your reader will know what you said in your personal statement and it will, it will be one cohesive whole.

So I wouldn’t worry about that.

Anesha: Um, okay. So some folks who I asked to reword came back and they said, is it really crucial to make my essay unique? And if so, how can I do that? Uh, while making sure it’s still in my own voice?

Nicholas: Yes. Um, yes, it is crucial because the opposite of unique is, I don’t know, common or like, if your essay sounds like every other essay.

Then. then your odds are going to be lower just because your grades are going to look like everyone else’s grades or some cohorts of grades. And so there’s no way to stand out there. The only place you have to stand out is through your essays. So yeah, it is really important. And honestly, I feel like you, you answered the question yourself.

Uh, the best way to be unique is to speak. Like yourself, because you’re all, yeah, talented, unique people with interesting experiences in your life, and if you just tell some stories that happen in your life that are, that are yours, then, then those are unique, because no one else has your experiences, and no one else has your brain.

So, I would say, yeah, kind of turn the question back on you, and just say, it’s yeah, the way to sound unique is to, to write as passionately and genuinely as you can. About you.

Anesha: Oh, okay. I guess this is a balancing between someone who listed a major, but is feeling undecided. So they said, if I want to talk about programs that I’m interested in, even though it’s not what I specifically listed in my major, is that okay? If I write essays about that, um, for the chosen school, does that make sense?

Nicholas: Yeah, totally. Okay. To do that. Uh, the reason it’s okay is, um, That’s an opportunity to demonstrate your open mindedness and your, your willingness to think out of the box and to be creative and all that kind of stuff. So, yeah, there’s, like I said, there’s no pressure to declare or commit to anything, so it’s totally fine to, to demonstrate interest in multiple things.

So, don’t worry about that.

Anesha: Um, I know you answered this, but I’ll just ask to, I guess, reiterate it. Just someone said, who is reading supplemental essays?

Nicholas: Yeah, um, I think every college might do it a little bit differently, but they hire admissions people, uh, usually for undergrad in grad schools. Usually it’s the faculty who read these things, but undergrad, it’s their own team, like their full time job.

is to read undergrad essays and choose who to admit. So totally, a lot of times they’re separate from the university altogether. They may have, honestly, not that much to do with the university. Obviously, they’re familiar with the area. They know enough to be hired. But, yeah, it’s, your readers are adults who have chosen to read undergrad essays for a living.

So, um, Yeah, that’s your audience.

Anesha: Yeah. Oh, and I liked what you shared before just to clarify around the like grading like everything each component for most schools gets kind of assigned a number and then the number adds up to a score. And so your essay kind of gets summarized into a score that is added to your overall application after it’s read and that’s how your application is ultimately evaluated.

So just keep in mind that like it’s a lot of people reading. Yeah. making a very, um, a quick assignment or judgment about it, assigning it a number and then, um, feeding it into your, your broader application. Um, uh, okay. So, oh, this person clarified, they were talking about, they’re trying to think about how to commercialize, commercializing research.

Um, but so for people who have kind of a very niche or specific interest, um, are there tips or strategies for the best way for them to they have to kind of reinvent the wheel of explaining their specific area of interest.

Nicholas: Yeah, I think with that, it’s okay to use, I mean, you can definitely overdo jargon.

Um, but if you use jargon in a way that’s obvious to the reader that you know what you’re talking about, I think that can come across pretty good. It’s like, okay, this person really has invested. Um, in this particular activity, even if, yeah, I don’t know every single word, like I, I know most of it, but I, I can tell this person really gets it, and they spent a lot of time in this area to be able to write like that.

I think that can come across good. Obviously, you, you can overdo it, and you can underdo it, um, but it’s okay, it’s okay to be specific there. Um, that’s all I’d say.

Anesha: Yeah, I think, uh, unless you’re applying, unless you know you’re applying to a specific program where you know that there will be someone within the major reading your paper, more likely than not, it’s going to be someone who does not know the details of your major or about your subject.

So yeah, definitely minimize jargon. And that’s when it would be helpful to have someone who’s not, who does not follow what you follow, reading your essay to make sure they can understand it, they can follow it before you submit it. Um, okay, this, uh, what might be our last question? Should we avoid being funny?

Given that we don’t know how the audience will respond. How, what if jokes land weird in writing, I guess? Yeah.

Nicholas: I don’t know. You shouldn’t avoid being funny. You should be funny. If that, if that helps you be memorable and, uh, it sounds like you, I think, yeah, obviously everyone might take a joke differently, but you can practice telling jokes to different people and see how they respond.

And if most people think it’s funny, then your reader will probably think it’s funny. Um, I wouldn’t make an edgy joke. Um, I’d be careful. I’d be politically correct. I’d do all of those things. Um, but humor can be very effective. I would not shy away from that.

Anesha: Awesome. All right, we actually have time for one more question.

Um, if I can find one.

Oh, okay. I know that this is a yes or no question, but I’ll ask you really quickly. Are supplemental essays solely about academic performance or can they be personal as well?

Nicholas: They should be personal because your academic performance probably speaks for itself. So, Yeah. Let’s, let’s keep personal and interesting.

Anesha: So there’s no need to kind of rehash and explain your transcript. Let it stand on its own. Oh, not

Nicholas: at all. In fact, so your high school will submit something called a high school profile to each school and it will explain, I don’t know, the GPA. So you’re, not only just your, Each university have your transcript, but they have a document which explains how your transcript fares relative to other students at your school.

So, there’s, you don’t have to do any work to contextualize your transcript.

Anesha: Awesome. All right, so we will leave it there. Thank you so much, Nicholas, for your time. Thank you for letting me chime in on top of your, your responses, hopefully adding something to them. Um, uh, that is the end of our webinar. We hope that you gained some helpful tips in writing and editing your supplemental essay.

Also, we do hope that you will join us. Um, for our future webinars. Um, this or for next month, actually. So we’ll have “The Ultimate Guide to the University of California System.” Um, you see is on October 4th and October 9th. We will have an open “Q&A With Former Admissions Officers” if you want to hear a little bit more about how applications are ready to review reviewed and we’ll do a “Financial Aid Deep Dive” on October 16th.

So please join us next month. Until then, take care and have a great evening. And thank you again, Nicholas, for your time.

Nicholas: Thank you later. Everyone.