Writing About Extracurriculars in Your College Essays

Are you a high school student gearing up to apply for college? Are you unsure how to effectively showcase your extracurricular activities in your college essays? Join us for an informative webinar designed to help you master the art of writing about your extracurriculars in your college applications!

Admissions expert Anna Vande Velde will delve into the importance of highlighting your extracurricular involvements and the significant role they play in your college admissions process. She will provide you with valuable insights and practical tips to ensure that your essays truly shine.

Key Learnings to Expect:

  • Understanding the role of extracurricular activities in college applications: Discover why extracurriculars matter beyond academics and how they can help you stand out among other applicants.
  • Identifying your unique story: Learn how to identify and articulate your most meaningful extracurricular experiences, demonstrating your passions, leadership skills, and personal growth.
  • Crafting compelling narratives: Explore effective storytelling techniques to engage admissions officers and make your essays memorable.
  • Showcasing impact and personal development: Gain insights into showcasing the impact you’ve made through your extracurricular involvements and how they have influenced your personal growth and character development.
  • Avoiding common pitfalls: Understand common mistakes to avoid when writing about your extracurriculars, such as vague descriptions, generic statements, and lack of focus. We’ll provide you with strategies to ensure your essays are authentic and impactful.
  • Tailoring your essays to different colleges: Learn how to tailor your extracurricular stories to match the values and interests of specific colleges, making your application stand out in the highly competitive admissions landscape.
  • Leveraging supplemental essays: Discover how to effectively utilize supplemental essays to delve deeper into your extracurricular experiences and provide additional context to your application.

Don’t miss this opportunity to gain invaluable insights into writing about extracurricular activities in your college essays! Join us for an engaging webinar that will equip you with the tools and knowledge to present your extracurricular involvements in the best possible light. Register now and embark on your path to college success!

Date 09/13/2023
Duration 59:20

Webinar Transcription

2023-09-13 – Writing About Extracurriculars in Your College Essays

Juliana: Hi, everyone. My name is Juliana Furigay, and I am your webinar moderator today. Welcome to, “Writing About Extracurriculars in Your College Essays.” So 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 also start submitting questions in the Q& A tab.

Now let’s meet our panelists.

Anna: Hi, everyone. My name is Anna Vande Velde. I’m excited to be here with you tonight. Um, to give you a bit of my background, I graduated in 2015 from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in psychology. Um, thought I was going to pursue the psychology path and become a licensed clinician. I ended up in law school, um, which I completed in 2021.

And now I am working as an attorney and also for a CollegeAdvisor.

Juliana: Great. Thanks so much for the intro, Anna. Um, so I do have a poll for everyone tonight and it’s what grade are you in? Um, so while we wait for those poll results to come in, um, I guess in the meantime, Anna, I would love to ask you what extracurriculars you did in high school.

Anna: Yes. Um, well, I did what I think Students should not do. I advise my students against it. I signed up for every club in my high school because I thought that’s what colleges were looking for. So I had this really long list of extracurriculars, um, but a lot of them didn’t have much depth and really didn’t mean much to me.

Um, so, not advisable. We can get into that more later. Um, but as far as meaning goes, I really like doing theater. That was it. Meaningful to me.

Juliana: Nice. Um, but yeah, that’s definitely great advice. So for everyone on the call today, definitely don’t feel like you need to do every single extracurricular there is out there, you know, just for the sake of college apps.

Definitely just pursue what you’re passionate in. Um, and in terms of the pull results, it looks like only 4% of you are freshmen, 20% are sophomores, 24%. And the largest group we have tonight are seniors at 52%. Um, so I’m closing that poll and we’re going back to the presentation.

Anna: Awesome. Thank you for sharing that with us.

It’s really helpful to know as we’re talking tonight. Um, so I just wanted to start to orient us. Um, and talk about where in your college application, can you talk about your extracurricular experiences? I know the title of tonight is about talking about them in your essays. Um, but before we get into that, I just wanted to point out, there’s lots of places to talk about extracurriculars.

Um, maybe the most obvious is in the, what’s called activities, work, and family responsibility section. At least that’s what it’s called on the Common App. Um, there’s also a section called academics. Academic honors and achievements, your personal statement. So your, your major essay. Um, and then some colleges have supplemental essays where you could also write about extracurriculars.

And finally, you might also want to ask someone who’s writing your letter of recommendation to mention the particular extracurricular experience you’ve had. Um, so really. Every part of the application could be a relevant place to talk about an extracurricular.

I’m not going to read through this list, um, because I trust you can do it on your own, but I I wanted to include it on the slide to show you that on the Common App, this, for every extracurricular you put in, there’s a dropdown and you’ll need to categorize it. And I hope this list gives you a sense of really how, like, how broad they’re describing extracurriculars.

So if there’s something you do that you’re spending your time on that’s really meaningful to you. I bet you there’s a way you can get it onto the list. Um, so I said I’m not going to read all of them, but I do like to point out that family responsibilities is on here. Um, and also identity based things.

So, you know, cultural, orientation, religious, um, those are all on here. Your extracurriculars that you put on the list can happen. at school or outside of school. None are favored more than others. I saw some questions about that. Um, they all submitted ahead of time. Thank you for that. I know it can be stressful to believe this, but truly colleges are taking a holistic approach.

At CollegeAdvisor, we have a whole bunch of folks who used to work in college admissions and they All promise me and us that the people reading these applications are looking holistically. So there’s no one type of extracurricular that’s going to bump you up to the top. There’s no one thing that like you have to have on there.

They just want to see who you are as a whole person. And so like I was saying earlier, advising students against joining everything just so you can put it on the application. Choose what’s meaningful to you. Because that meaning is going to shine through on the application, um, that’s going to stand out to them.


I’m trying to advance the slide. Okay, so, what, why does it make sense to write about your extracurriculars? In your essays, you can write about a whole bunch of different things. Um, why would you want to do that? So, um, in the extracurricular section, where you’re listing what you’ve done, you’re limited to 150 characters.

That is not a lot! Um, so it really doesn’t give you time to go into how meaningful your experiences have been or to show how you’ve really grown personally by doing them. Um, so an essay will give you room to do that. It will allow you to highlight activities that are extra important to you. And your extracurricular activities can be a really great source of interesting stories.

And as we’ll get into in your essays, you The more you can story-tell, the stronger they will be.

So, speaking of, how can students write meaningful essays about their activities? Tip number one, tell a story. And what I mean by that is, put the reader in your shoes. As much as you can, show us what you were thinking, what you were feeling, what you saw. Um, and then how you reacted to it, how you grew, how you felt, all of that.

Um, is a really effective way to help the meaningfulness of activity shine through. Um, it’s also a really great way to help sort of like connect the dots for the readers from What you have been doing in high school to where you want to go in college and beyond. Um, I want, I want to add a caveat that, you know, saying that you can connect your extracurricular to your college interest.

That doesn’t mean that if you want to be a math major, you need to write about, math club. Um, the connection doesn’t need to be obvious on its face. And in fact, I think a lot of interesting stories come out when it’s not obvious on its face. So for example, maybe you participate in a cooking club and through some, you know, interesting experience there, you realize that you really like deductive reasoning.

And so that’s why you want to go and study math. It doesn’t need to be like a super obvious connection if you can do the work of telling the story.

Juliana: All right, so now it is time for another poll. So wondering where are you in the college application process? And while we wait for those results, um, Anna, I’d love to ask, did you talk about your extracurriculars in your college essays? And if not, what did you talk about?

Anna: I, I don’t believe I did. Um, in my personal statement, I I talked about a personal experience in my life, um, in my family life that was really challenging.

So no, I didn’t get into the extracurriculars, um, there. Which is fine. I see a lot of students do that. Um, but it just makes the descriptions in the extracurricular section even more important.

Juliana: Got it. Well, thank you for sharing that. Anna. Um, looks like 20 percent have not started their applications yet.

33 percent uh, are researching school. So that’s the bulk of the group here. 24 percent are working on their essays. 18 percent are getting their application materials together. And we have 4 percent that are almost done with their apps. Um, so that’s that variety we have here.

Anna: Yeah. Awesome. Congrats to everyone for wherever you are in the process.

You’re here today, which means you are engaged in this process and you are learning in that space. It’s something to celebrate. So kudos to you. Um, so looking at some tips to describe your extracurriculars in the best light possible, um, I’ve broken it out because I think the writing style is very different when you’re in the activity section versus in essays.

So in the activity section, you can think of it almost like a resume. where you want to use action words. You don’t have to use full sentences. You want to highlight leadership roles you’ve had and be really specific to focus on what you’ve done and not what the club is about. Um, so for example, under debate club, you could say, belong to the debate club where students debate controversial topics at various high schools in the region.

That is accurate. Not very specific and doesn’t really highlight that students participation. Um, I, I would say a stronger description would be participated in 15 debates, organized team fundraiser, which raised over a thousand dollars, co led practice sessions. So you’ve got those action words in there, participated, organized, co led, and you’ve got the specificity of the 15 debates, raising over 1, 000, um, that’s a lot more informative of a description.

Now, in your essays, we still want to be specific and concrete, but we want to do a lot more storytelling. So put yourself, put the reader in your shoes and focus on just like one to two things that you have accomplished or learned. So, you know, what did it look, sound, or feel like to participate in a debate?

How, what was that experience like for you? What did you learn about yourself? How did you grow? That’s, those are the things you really can’t capture in the activity section. Um, which is what makes essays such, um, Such a good opportunity.

Things to avoid when writing about extracurriculars. Um, as much as you can, every sentence, every word, the goal is that though, that that is telling the reader about you, not the club. Um, so kind of like an example I gave on the last slide, you really don’t need to go into much detail about what a debate club is.

The readers have a schema for that, they understand. This is also not, in your essays, it’s not an appropriate place to just list all of your accomplishments. That’s for the, the description section under extracurriculars. Essay needs to tell a story, we don’t want it to read like a shopping list. Um, I also caution students about negativity or unconstructive critiques.

And that’s not to say that, that you shouldn’t describe those things if you had a negative experience. Um, but what I mean by that is instead of saying something like, My school had a really terrible math club. Um, that’s a critique. It’s negative. It’s not constructive. I would challenge you to say like I joined math club.

Here’s what I saw. I had this reaction to it. I thought we could do better. And here’s what I did about it. Um, so you can describe things that were negative, but the framing is really important. I have similar advice. If you want to write about an activity you didn’t enjoy or that you feel like you failed at, um, be really thoughtful about the framing.

Tell us what happened and then tell us how you reacted. What did you learn? How did you grow? How did you respond in a positive way to an experience that was negative?

What is your experience reviewing essays about extracurricular experiences? I would say you can relate almost anything back to your career and your academic interest. It does not need to be a TV worthy story. I think I know I say tell a story a lot. I know that can feel overwhelming. Um, And I know that doing this requires reflection and thought and time and that it’s not easy.

Um, so I would suggest, you know, just ask yourself, what activity is the most important to me? What moments stick out in my mind? And it might not be this like, movie worthy event, right? Where like I won this award or this big thing happened. It could be really small. It could be a comment someone made or something you read.

Go with that. Hold on to that and ask yourself why, like, why was that so important? When you do that level of introspection, that’s where you’re going to find a really interesting story that helps the reader learn more about you, about how your brain works and about how you relate to the world.

Okay. Last advice, um, when writing about your extracurriculars, show, don’t tell. I know I have a broken record on that one. Remember that when you’re listing things that’s not appropriate to do in your essays, that fits much more naturally in the extracurricular section. Be your genuine self. And I know I say this all the time to my students, the hardest sentence you’ll ever write in an essay is the first one.

Just start writing and then be open to rewriting. Once you get something on the paper, for me, at least more starts to follow and then you can go back, you can get feedback, you can, you know, rework things. Um, and as much as you can have fun, you’re talking in these essays about things that you love and that you’re passionate about.

So even if you don’t enjoy writing, hopefully at least thinking about these topics is exciting and interesting to you. Um, And hopefully you can find some fun in it.

Juliana: Great. Um, so that is the end of the presentation part of the webinar. So, I hope that all of you found this information to be helpful and remember that you can download the slides from the link in the handouts tab. So, we’re going to move on to the live Q and a here. I’m going to read through the questions that you submitted in the Q& A tab, put them in the public chat so you can see them, and then read them out loud before our panelist Anna here gives you an answer.

I’m also going to start off with the questions that were submitted prior during registration. And as a heads up, if your Q& A tab isn’t allowing you to submit questions, Just remember that just double check that you joined the webinar through the custom link in your email and not from the webinar landing page.

Um, and to start off with the 1st question here, and, uh, I’m going to look through the ones that were sent in registration. So what kinds of extracurriculars, um, do colleges favor? I know you talked about this a bit beforehand, but just discussing, you know, what extracurriculars to even go for in the first place.

Anna: Yeah. Um, Yes, to be super clear, there is no one type of extracurricular that a college favors over another. Um, do what is enjoyable to you. Um, it is a very overwhelming time in your life, I get that. There’s so much pressure looking ahead to college and college prep. And y’all are very busy, um, with academics and with all of your extracurriculars.

So, as much as you can. In that extracurricular time, if you’re doing something you enjoy, like you deserve that. And that’s how you learn about yourself. That’s how you learn about what you want to do in college. Um, so there is the answer to that is like there is none. There’s nothing that they favor. Do what feels right to you.

Do what will help you feel the most engaged in your community, in your school. Um, and was there a second part to that question?

Juliana: Um, I know, I think you answered it well. Thank you. Um, so next question is from a student in the Q& A chat. And they’re wondering, I have an extracurricular with a lot of awards, but also a lot of community impact.

And I’m not sure which I should talk about in the limited 150 character box, um, in the activity section. So how should the student talk about that activity?

Anna: Yeah. I would Want to know a few more specifics from the student, but I in general would point to the fact that on the common app There is a separate section for awards So maybe one option is in the word section you list all the awards and then in the extracurricular section you describe Your participation and what you’ve done

Juliana: Definitely.

Um, so this student is wondering if my personal statement talks about people in my extracurriculars, how in depth should I go about, you know, this person in my essay? And I think it’s, it’s a little broader, but if you could provide some guidance on that specific question.

Anna: Yeah. Your personal statement, number one goal is for the reader to learn about you.

So it’s. It’s a great idea to talk about other people who have been meaningful to you. And it’s very important to use, to frame it so that even when you’re talking about someone else, you’re really talking about your reaction to that person because that’s how the reader can learn about you. So if it’s someone you admire, what did you see them do and why did you admire it?

How did you learn from them? How did you grow? How’s it impacting what you want to do in your life?

Juliana: Um, so the next student here is wondering, are you supposed to complete an activity section and an essay for the Common App? So if you could just overview you, you know, the requirements to submit a Common App.


Anna: absolutely. I’m gonna go back in the slides, if that’s okay, Juliana, um, to the list. So, in, in case anyone doesn’t know, the Common App, um, is a place where most colleges in the U. S. want you to submit your application to them. It’s very helpful as a student because that means you’re not submitting something to the 15 different websites or however many colleges you’re applying to.

It also means you’re submitting the same information to all of the colleges. And these are the sections on the Common App. So, yes, for every application you submit on the Common App, each college is going to get credit. Your activities list, your honors and achievements list, a personal statement. Letters of recommendation and then some colleges also require additional essays or supplemental essays, which you can also upload to the common app.

Juliana: Yes, definitely. And I guess in terms of the ranking of these different materials, one student is wondering how high is the like activities list ranked on an admissions officers radar? Um, is it a large part of the application? Yes, definitely.

Anna: Yeah, so this brings us back to the holistic review theme. Um, so what we advise at CollegeAdvisor is before you start writing any of your application, the extracurricular list, your essay, anything, you do some introspection.

We have worksheets to help with this. Um, you talk it out with folks and you decide Basically, what is your brand? Like who, who are you? How are you presenting yourself to the college? Um, readers are spending like five to seven minutes reading through these and they’re doing hundreds a day. So they’re not going to remember specific details really about anything.

Um, so what’s more important than anything is that your application together tells this cohesive, consistent story. Um, so we advise our students pick two to three high level themes. Um, you’re dedicated, you’re engaged in your community and your patient, whatever, whatever describes you pick those three themes.

And then throughout the application. Think about how, how you can highlight those. So there’s no one section that’s more or less important. Um, I’m on our essay review team. So I’m a big fan of the essay because I think it’s maybe the easiest place to get your inject like your personal voice and your personality into the application.

Um, but I wouldn’t say it’s more important. I think it’s all equally important and it’s about the story you’re telling and the picture you’re painting of yourself. All of these pieces together.

Juliana: Yes, I would definitely hearken back everything that you said. I think the essay is a big part of showing who you are and setting yourself apart from other applicants.

And I know sometimes it might feel like it’s hard to set yourself apart within the activity section just because so many students are also doing the same extracurriculars. But I’ve seen some students. be able to distinguish themselves. For example, I had a student a couple years ago who was really big on reviewing movies online.

So he wrote that he was a letterbox reviewer and, you know, put his different statistics, the number of reviews and likes that he’s gotten. Um, so you can definitely be more creative and, you know, portray your unique self through the activity section as well. Um, so the next question that I will throw your way is, Are you able to write about extracurricular activities that you did in eighth grade or before high school?

Um, especially because with this group of students, part of their high school experience was COVID.

Anna: Yeah, great question. I am pretty sure that on the extracurricular list, um, that they ask specifically about your high school activities. I can try Googling that right now. Um, In the essay though, you really can talk about anything.

Um, and so, you know, if it, if it was that meaningful and impactful to you, yeah, absolutely. Talk about it. If it’s an activity that you did, you know, in grade school, middle school, and you still do, then for sure, um, it can go on that list, but I’m not sure. Giuliana, do you know if it says specifically? Um,

Juliana: I think college admissions officers typically want to see your experience in high school more.

So if it’s a, an activity that you did like an eighth grade and continued on in high school, like that’s definitely fair game, but. Try to focus on what you have done in high school. Um, if not, you can go back to eighth grade, but I’d say, you know, try to keep it within high school is what I would say. Yeah, I agree.

Um, I guess the next question I have for you is in regard to sports. So would you be able to kind of advise on how you’d write a college essay about your sports experiences?

Anna: Yeah. Um, it’s going to be the same advice as if you’re writing about. Any experience. And that is tell a story. So put us in your shoes and then show us what you learned.

I think sports are a great source of stories because there’s so much commotion. There’s so much happening. And it takes a lot of internal discipline and growth and self reflection, um, to improve in athletics. So I think it’s a great area to write about, and I just encourage you to do that hard work of the introspecting, um, and thinking about what moments were meaningful.

And how you can convey that growth.

Juliana: Definitely. Great answer. Um, and the student who I posed that first question to you in regard to balancing, I think it was like accomplishments slash awards with community impact. So the student has followed up. They say, Thanks for answering. To follow up to my first question, What if I could only choose between using the activity section and the additional information section to list my awards or impacts, which would I prioritize?

This is for a sport.

Anna: Um, I’m not sure why they would only be able to choose one. So I’m not sure I’m understanding the question. Do you understand

Juliana: better Juliana? I’m not sure either. So if you could provide more followup, that would be great. Yeah. I’m not really sure. Or maybe it’s like a different application for. So now I’m not exactly sure.

Anna: Yeah, in general, I would say, if you’re not exactly sure, like, does it fit better in extracurriculars or honors, I would just pick where you have room to put it, um, cause there is a limit. You can only do 10 extracurriculars and there’s a limit on the academic honors, too, um, So maybe that’s a natural way to decide, um, or just, just pick where it feels best.

They’re, they’re not going to be nitpicky about like, Oh, you’re mentioning you want an award in the activities section. If you’re also talking about the activity. So I wouldn’t stress about that. Too much.

Juliana: Yeah. And you know, they’re going to be reviewing your application in its entirety. So as long as that information is somewhere, wherever you’re able to put it, you know, the admissions officer will see it is what I think.

Um, oh, well, they said that it’s just that they’ve committed to this. They’ve been committed to the support for so long that the awards and impacts would exceed. The word limit. So you know where to put that.

Anna: Yeah. Um, sometimes you do have to make the choice, you know, which ones to include and which to drop.

Also, if you can like shorten the titles, or if you’ve won the same award multiple years in a row, you don’t have to put the full title of the award each time. There are some ways to, you know, cut your word count. Uh, if you need help with that, ask your CollegeAdvisor. Um, or if you’re not working with us, you know, a teacher, a parent, someone, get their help with that.

I also wanted to add Juliana, at least this year, um, I know not everyone here is a senior. There is a place on the common app to discuss COVID. If you want to, it’s an optional question. And how it impacted your high school career, um, because I think maybe that was part of that question earlier about, um, activities from middle school.

So that could be a good place if you if you feel like there’s a gap in your extracurriculars and it’s because literally the whole world shut down. Um, that’s, that’s a fine place to address that.

Juliana: Yes, definitely. Thank you for adding that. I think a lot of students will find that helpful with their application.

Um, yeah, the next question here is what is the difference between a personal statement and an essay? So kind of back to the basics of Common App.

Anna: Yeah, great question, and I apologize because I think I’m flipping back and forth between what I call them, um, so a personal statement is an essay that you write, um, to Depending on where you apply, it’s typically 650 words.

Um, so personal statement is an essay. You may also have additional essays to write. There are some colleges that require that. Um, but they’re, they’re just essays. It’s I’m sorry for the confusion in my word choice. Yes, thank you for clarifying that. Yeah,

Juliana: all of the wording just gets so confusing with college apps.

Um, the next question is Is it too much to talk about something in your personal statement? If you are submitting a supplemental letter of recommendation related to the same topic, for example your part time job

Anna: Yeah, I don’t think it’s too much. I would ask yourself why. Um, I think, I think it’s really smart to be strategic about who you ask to write your letters.

And I encourage my students to be really specific when they’re requesting letters. Um, and saying like, here’s a few things I’d I’d like you to talk about if you’re comfortable. Um, so if you are writing something about, you know, your part time job in your essay, but there’s something about it that you feel like would land better coming from your letter writer versus you saying it yourself, that makes sense because then it’s bringing in It’s still bringing in new information, um, basically with, with limited words, the fewer redundancies you have, the more they’ll get to learn about you.

So I don’t, I don’t think it’s wrong. I don’t think it’s too much. I would just ask yourself why you’re doing that and make sure that everything you’re putting in is bringing new information to the readers.

Juliana: Yes, I agree. Um, so a student here is wondering, can admissions officers tell if you haven’t done much introspection and your essay reads off as a bit generic?

Um, how do you prevent this from happening? And they also say that you mentioned a worksheet, so if you could elaborate on that.

Anna: Yeah, I think they can tell, um, if you haven’t put, you know, much thought or introspection into it. Because, if they, if after reading the essay, They don’t feel like they really like have a sense of who you are or your voice.

Um, then you you haven’t conveyed that introspection to them. Um, what was the second part of the question? Sorry. Um, you mentioned a worksheet. Yes. The worksheet I mentioned was just something that we use with our students to help them develop their, their personal brand. So those three like Big themes. I talked about, um, it, if you come work with us, awesome.

We’ll love to go through the worksheet with you. If not, it’s really just asking different questions to help you, you know, narrow down, like, Who you are as a person.

Juliana: Um, so this student is very passionate about computer science, specifically coding and their essay is talking about different things they like to do within coding.

Um, and they could talk about it for hours, but the problem is that their essay is not long enough. Um, so should they try to add something else or add another thing to talk about? So general advice for lengthening an essay.

Anna: Yeah. Um, well, I would love to see their essay. It sounds exciting. I love it when students.

about a topic. Um, it might be a good time to ask someone else to read it and get their feedback. Maybe you’ve done that. I know that. That’s a very vulnerable thing to do as a writer. It’s still intimidating to me to share my writing with other people. Uh, but I think if you, if you’ve reached a spot where you’re like, it’s too short, I don’t know where else to go.

It’s a great time to ask a family member, an educator, someone you trust to read it and just tell you honestly, like, what questions does this bring up for you? Like where, where would you want me to elaborate? And what would you want to know? Um, Yeah, I hope that’s helpful. It’s hard without reading your essay.

Juliana: Yes, thank you. Um, could you share any examples of personal statement essays that stuck out to you? Were they especially unique or just well written? So what stands out to you in an essay?

Anna: Yeah, one that stood out to me was last year. Um, and I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of these, by the way. Um, one that still stands out to me Was about a student’s participation on the golf team.

And it stands out in my memory because it wasn’t the strongest writing. And it wasn’t that interesting. Like what happened wasn’t like this big, like light bulb moment. It was. It’s just this honest story of the student’s voice clearly shining through of him saying like, yeah, I, I started in golf and I thought I was this all star and then I realized like there were better people than me and that was upsetting and here’s how I reacted.

And I became not only a better golfer, but a better person and our team got better because of it. Um, Transcribed And it, it really, it just stands out to me because it is so genuine and like, it wasn’t the best writing or even the most exciting story. So I mean it when I say like, just be yourself and be genuine.

Um, and. That’s that’s what the readers will remember.

Juliana: Yes, definitely great advice. And uh, I mean, admissions officers just want to see an essay from the heart and they want to make sure that it’s something that you’ve wrote something You’re passionate about something you care about Um, so at the end of the day as long as your voice shines through You know, I think that you’ve done your job there.

Um, and I guess an appropriate question to follow up with is the student has heard that they should avoid sports stories for the personal statement. So, would you say that sports stories are appropriate for the essay portion? Um, and I guess how to speak about sports again,

Anna: I would say they’re appropriate.

And I get this question. I think every time I do this webinar and I really want to know who out there is telling students not to write about athletics because I don’t think it’s good advice. The questions for the personal statement. If you look at them on the Common App, are very broad, very open ended, and that’s super intentional on the colleges part.

They want you to be able to write about whatever is meaningful to you. And if it’s sports, then it’s sports and you should write about that. And then keep in mind everything we said, where you’re telling a story, you’re putting us in your shoes, and you’re showing us why. It was so meaningful to you like in the golf example.

I just went through. I don’t think he ever once said I love golf. I’m passionate about golf. It was just obvious and it was obvious why it was because golf was this place where he had learned so much about himself and then grew as a result of that learning. Um, so I think that is a good format for an essay and the sports are a great source of those stories.

Juliana: Yes. Thank you for sharing that. That sounds like a really impactful essay. And I would also love to read that on some time. And at this point in the webinar, I actually wanted to talk about a special offer that I have for you. for you attendees here tonight. Um, so CollegeAdvisors team of over 300 former admissions officers and admissions experts are ready to help you and your family navigate the college admissions process in one on one advising sessions.

We’ve already helped over 6, 000 clients in their college journeys. And after analyzing our data since 2021, 2021. We’ve actually found that CollegeAdvisor students are 3. 6 times more likely to get into Stanford, 4. 1 times more likely to get into Vanderbilt, and 2. 7 times more likely to get into Harvard.

Um, so you can increase your odds and take the next step in your college admissions journey by signing up for a free 45 to 60 minute strategy session with an admission specialist on our team using the QR code on the screen. So during this meeting, we’re going to be able to review your current extracurricular list and application strategy, um, discuss how those align with your college list and outline the tools that you need to stand out in a competitive admissions world.

Um, so for those of you that have like very specific questions about your application, I would definitely recommend signing up for a session here as you’ll be able to get that one on one help with the application. Someone on our team here. Um, so yeah, that offer is available to you all with that QR code.

Um, and the next question that we’re going to be tackling in this Q and A is about letters of recommendation. If you could speak on them a little bit more and what are the length of these, um, recommendation letters?

Anna: Oh, I think they’re generally about a page. Um, and you, most colleges require you to have two, some allow you to submit up to three.

Um, One of them, at least one of them, should be an educator, someone who knows you in the academic setting. Um, and then usually the second one that they’ll leave to your discretion. Um, these are, I think these are a great place to have something addressed that you just don’t think is appropriate anywhere else.

Um, So, for example, um, when I applied to law school, I asked someone who’s writing one of my letters to address why my first semester of college my grades were lower. It’s because I was working overnight shifts to pay for my college, yadda yadda. That wasn’t something I wanted to come from me, it just felt like it would It just felt more natural.

Um, and like it would, I don’t know, be more appealing to read from someone who saw it from the outside and who saw and knew me in that phase. Um, so that, I think, is a really good point. a great thing to cover in a letter and then Again going back to this idea of having a consistent brand. Um Just think about who who you’re asking And how how they’re going to contribute to that overall picture of yourself.

You’re trying to paint.

Juliana: Uh, yeah Thank you for explaining that and The next question that I have for you is the student is curious about the folks who read the essays and look over the college apps. So are these professionals that have to make a decision in five to seven minutes? Uh, do they work full time for the college admissions or do colleges outsource?

Um, this to third party is kind of how does that work? If you know the behind the scenes Yeah,

Anna: great question. Um, and I think there’s a range, um, with colleges, so I’m pretty sure, um, at most they’re in house folks, um, and It’s not my understanding that they’re making this. Yes, accept. No, don’t accept in five to seven minutes.

Um, I think they’re, they’re reading the application, um, and then three or four other people are reading the application and then they have a meeting to talk about everyone and who stood out and why and what do you remember? Um, so the actual decision, uh, you’re getting more than four to seven minutes, but not like for any individual reader is in terms of like, if they’re full time, part time.

I’m sorry, I don’t know that. Um, but I know we do have a lot of folks here who would know the answer to that. Um, so if you sign up with us, we, we could get you that answer.

Juliana: Definitely. And CollegeAdvisors sometimes host webinars with, you know, current or former admissions officers at colleges. Um, so if you see any of those coming up, definitely feel free to tune in, um, and pose that question in the Q& A.

And I’m sure they would be happy to go more. into their experiences at their specific college and, you know, how that works at their school. Um, yeah, we have a lot of questions about sports today. Um, this student is wondering what part of sports should I focus on? Uh, for example, the growth that I experienced and how I changed throughout the sport and, you know, gain maturity, you know, what different aspects can you focus on within talking about athletics in your essay?

Anna: Um, I think everything that they listed is a great thing to cover in your essay. I feel like you have the answer. Um, and then the more like the more nitty gritty details of like the hours of practice and accomplishments and everything, those can go in the more list heavy sections. If I’m not understanding your question, please send a follow up.

Um, but what you described sounded like exactly what I think you should cover in the essay.

Juliana: Uh, so we have another question in regard to that holistic approach to viewing the college app. So how do top colleges weigh essays versus extracurriculars versus the numbers of the GPA and standardized test scores? So if you could speak more on that again.

Anna: Yeah. It’s the same. The top colleges are also holistic.

They’re just more selective and harder to get into. Um, I don’t know of any school that has like a hard line cut off with grades or test scores. Truly, I, I do believe that they live by their tagline, that it’s a holistic approach, um, regardless of how prestigious they are.

Juliana: Yes, I definitely agree with that and have seen that in my experience.

Um, the next question that I will post to you is what if a student does not have a long list of extracurriculars? activities to write about or doesn’t have, you know, enough activities to fill in. I think it’s 10 activities within the Common App.

Anna: Yeah. Well, first, you don’t have to write about an extracurricular in your personal statement.

So if you don’t have one to write about, think about something else you might want to write about there. There’s lots of different prompts that might help spark ideas. In terms of not being able to fill all 10, I would not stress about that. I think you want, you want to have a decent number, so at least like five to six.

Um, but again, don’t do what I did and just sign up for something so you can put it on your application. What I would first encourage you to do is look really closely at that list I had up on the screen earlier. Um, in my experience, when I really talked through it with students, we’re able to find more things to put on that list that they didn’t think would count.

Um, So if you help out with your family, with caretaking with siblings, um, or grandparents or anything like that, that counts. If you have a part time job, that counts. If you’re engaged in any religious organization, that counts. There’s so many things on that list, um, often I think students are able to find more than they originally thought they had.

So that would be my first starting point. And then if you really feel like you need more, Ask yourself what you want to do, and please follow that. Don’t just sign up for something for your college application.

Juliana: Yes, that’s great advice, Anna. Um, like I said, I had a student that put that they were an online reviewer for movies, so you can really put, you know, any activities that you fill your day with in that section. Um, so the next question that we have here is, Should I only talk about the positive aspects of my extracurriculars, Or can I talk about challenges that I have faced?

Anna: Absolutely fine to talk about challenges. In fact, I think those are often a great source of stories. Um, and like I mentioned earlier with, you know, negativity or failure, it’s just the framing that’s important. Um, So you don’t want the whole essay to be about like, I was so bad at golf. Let me tell you, like it was a terrible experience.

The coach was mean, yada, yada, yada, because we’re not really learning about who you are as a person that way. But if you, if that’s a meaningful experience, then come in with a genuine. Critique, put us in your shoes, tell us what you saw and experienced, um, and what, like, what was missing? What did you wish was different about that experience and what did you do about it?

Um, or what was challenging and why was it a challenge and how’d you respond? Who did you ask for help? How did you learn? How did you grow? That’s a great format for your essay because it’s really going to help the reader get to know you and how you. Interact with your world.

Juliana: Um, so the next question that we have is, are there any pitfalls I should be aware of when discussing my extracurriculars in my college essay?

Anna: Yeah, I think, um, the big ones that come to mind are, I see essays where students spend a lot of time explaining what the organization does. Or what the club does, um, when, and sometimes I understand why, because it’s not like an obvious club name, like debate club, for example, um, but as much as you can, like, if you, if you think you need to explain to the reader what the organization does, instead of framing it as like,

The I don’t know, the Hosanna house is about helping Children who don’t have anywhere to play after school. Instead of going into that, I would frame it as I spend my time at the Hosanna house engaged with Children who otherwise would have nowhere to play after school, something like that. So it’s framed from the your perspective and what you’re doing so that every sentence in that essay is telling the reader something new about you.

Um, so that’s number one, spending, you know, too, too many words describing the org instead of yourself. Um, and then number two would be, I think it’s hard to not just list everything, um, all the accomplishments, everything you’ve done, but really there’s another more efficient space for that and it’s the extracurricular list.

Juliana: And if a student is a senior and hasn’t really done any extracurricular activities, would you recommend at this point to try to immerse themselves in, you know, new extracurricular activities or what, what is your recommendation there?

Anna: I would advise you to find A few meaningful activities, um, and something I forgot to mention earlier is on an extracurricular section of the common app.

So you’re going to name your activity, you’re going to categorize it, and then there’s a question about how, how much time you’ve spent on it. So if you are engaged with one, one activity, but you’re spending 10, 15 hours on a week, they’re going to notice that, um, compared to a student who maybe has 10, but they’re spending like an hour, a month on it or something.

Um, those are very different levels of engagement. So in your senior year, I would focus on like depth and meaningful engagement versus Signing up for everything because if they see that senior year, you joined a bunch of clubs, um, that might make them think, oh, are they, did they do this for their college application?

If you didn’t, that’s fine. Follow your genuine interest and consider telling a story about that in, in one of your essays.

Juliana: Yes, definitely. Great advice. Thank you. Um, a student private messaged me a question. It’s in regards to college recommendation letters. So one of the teachers that they asked told them that they were going to bring up how they were a hardworking student, but also said that they were going to bring up how they faced challenges with the AP test.

So they’re wondering if this would affect them negatively and if they should ask a different teacher to write their.

Anna: Yeah. First of all, it’s awesome that this teacher is telling you what they’re going to write. That’s super helpful for you to know. If I were you, I would have a follow up conversation with them and ask, you know, what, what did you mean when you said, you’re going to talk about me facing challenges with AP tests?

Like I’d want to know how they’re going to frame that. Um, if they’re going to say, You know, this student didn’t even study, like, didn’t try, and then, like, didn’t do as well as I thought they could have on the AP test. Maybe at that point I would consider asking a different teacher, but if what they mean by that is they’re going to say, like, I know that test was hard for them, and yet, like, they, they persisted.

This showed me they were a hardworking student. And I think that’s a fantastic letter, um, because it shows how you responded to a challenge. So I would just want to know more about what that teacher meant, um, and the fact that they’re telling you what they’re going to write about, I think, suggests that they’d be willing to have this conversation with you.

Juliana: Yes. Um, so the student is wondering, how can I talk about awards I received in my extracurricular achievements in my essay without sounding boastful? Or in general, how to talk about achievements that you’ve had without sounding boastful in your essays?

Anna: Yeah, that’s a great question. Um, I really think going back to the like, put us in your shoes is so helpful because then instead of saying like, I have won eight awards.

You can tell the story of when you found out you won this award, where you were, who you were with, how did it feel? Like what, what was your genuine reaction to that? A lot of effort and work went into it. So how did you respond? How did you feel? Um, if you’re putting us in your shoes and sharing like a genuinely joyous and proud moment, um, then I, it doesn’t come across as bad.

is bragging.

Juliana: Yes, I definitely feel like it can feel hard to strike that balance between, you know, wanting to show your best self, but without sounding like you’re too conceited or boastful in your essays or in general with your college apps. Um, and it is hard and I think it has a lot to do with tone, but you also have to recognize, you know, college admissions officers do want to see.

You know, the best of yourself and the best of what you’ve done in high school. So, you know, don’t feel like you have to kind of downplay your achievements or anything of that nature.

Anna: Yeah. Definitely wouldn’t downplay. And sorry, uh, um, that’s such a good moment. If you’re worried that you’re sounding braggadocious to get feedback, just ask someone to read it.

I know that’s a vulnerable thing, um, but it’s really helpful feedback to have.

Juliana: Um, and I guess back to those letters of recommendation, um, a student is wondering what kinds of teachers should you not ask for letters of recommendation? And in general, like, should you be asking teachers that are teaching a subject that aligns with your intended major?

Just general guidance there?

Anna: Yeah, I think most important is to ask the a teacher who knows you as a student and a little bit as a person. Um, so they’re going to be able to talk about who you are more than, yeah, they came to my class every day, they turned in their assignments, they, they got good grades.

Um, you’re going to want someone who can give a little more depth than that. So it’s great if you can ask a teacher who, um, You know who you’ve worked with on a on an advanced subject matter on a subject matter related to your major. Uh, even more important is that they can talk about you as a person.

Juliana: Yes, definitely. Great advice. Um, just given the time, I think we just have time for one more question. So I would love to ask you, Anna, and this doesn’t really have to relate to the topic of our webinar tonight, but what last piece of advice do you want to leave our audience with tonight?

Anna: Last piece of advice. Be your genuine self in the extracurriculars you choose and in how you write about them. Bring your voice to your application and to everything you do. And that will always serve you well.

Juliana: Yes. Thank you so much, Anna. Um, so that is the end of our webinar tonight. Um, so thank you everyone for coming out tonight and huge thank you again, Anna, for all of the advice and guidance that you provided tonight.

Um, and here’s a look at our September series. Uh, so tomorrow we have a Harvard university panel. Um, on Sunday, the 17th, we have a Columbia and NYU panel, which I will actually be on. So if you want to hear about my experiences at Columbia, definitely feel free to tune in there on the 18th, we have standing out as a pre mad.

19th, we have fine tuning your college lists. Um, we have applying to merit scholarships on the 20th, 21st. We have a look into UPenn on the 22nd. Um, we have how to stand out in your MBA applications. Um, 24th, we have starting early to stand out. And on the 25th, we have the ultimate guide to supplemental essays.

Um, so that is all that we have for you all tonight. Um, thank you so much again, everyone for tuning in and thank you again, Anna. Um, and bye everyone. Have a good night.