Writing About You: The Personal Statement
Join CollegeAdvisor.com as CollegeAdvisor Admissions Expert and Essay Review Team Captain Gareth Cordery presents “Writing About You: The Personal Statement,” a 60-minute webinar and Q&A. Gareth will share insider knowledge on how to brainstorm and write your Common App personal statement in order to standout to your top colleges. Come ready to learn and bring your questions!
2022-09-20 – Writing About You: The Personal Statement
Hi, everyone. Welcome to CollegeAdvisor’s webinar: Writing About You: The Personal Statement. I am McKenzie, and I’ll be your moderator tonight. So you can let me know any, um, technical questions that you have. Whereas other questions will go into the Q&A chat, um, but, uh, to orient everyone with the webinar timing, we’ll start up with the presentation, then answer your questions on a live Q&A on the sidebar.
You can download slides and you can start so many of your questions on the Q&A tab. Now let’s meet our panelist. Good evening, everyone. Thank you so much for coming. Um, and thank you, McKenzie. Um, for hosting the webinar. Uh, my name is Gareth Cordery and I graduated from Middlebury college with a degree in music and history.
I’m currently a doctoral student at Columbia University studying historical musicology, um, and an advisor with CollegeAdvisor. Um, I’m also captain of CollegeAdvisor’s Essay Review Team, um, which is an extensive resource for current CollegeAdvisor advisees, um, who often benefit from the many extra pairs of eyes on their application essays, um, and expert assistance across all parts of the essay writing process.
Um, as a member and captain of that team, I’ve read and reviewed several hundred Common App and supplemental essays. I’ve edited well over a hundred personal statements. So I’m thrilled to be with you today to discuss the personal statement, um, which is of course a significant aspect of any common college application.
Yes. And real quick, we’re just gonna do a poll. So what grade? Um, okay. It seems like we’re having sound issues. I can people put in the chat if they’re unable to hear , but, uh, while we wait for that, uh, what grade are you currently in? So, uh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th, or other, and other can be, if you’re a transfer student or taking a gap here,
Uh, okay. And while we wait for that, sorry. Uh, how long does it take, uh, about how long does it take to write the personal statement? Oh, uh, whew. That’s a really good question. I think the, the answer of course, is that it really depends, um, on your experience with writing in your comfort level. Um, but in general, I’d say because the personal statement is something that you’ll want to sort of really dig into because it involves personal reflections because it’s something that’ll take some rounds of editing.
Um, generally you want to give it certainly over a month. Um, I think even if the sort of actual writing portion is much shorter than that, um, it’s part of a broader process of brainstorming and writing and editing. Um, so it can take much longer, I think, than most essays of a similar length that is relatively short after all, but there’s a lot, there’s a lot to it.
Yes. And we will get into that. So it’s looking like we have 2% eighth graders, uh, 8%, 10th graders, 33% 11th graders, 57 and 57% 12th graders making up the majority. And you can control. Okay. Awesome. Thank you very much. Um, so since we have, um, high schoolers, hold on, there we go. Okay. Uh, since we have high schoolers, our students across high school years, um, I think it’s best to sort of start right at the beginning.
What is a personal statement, um, at a basic level and you probably already know it’s an essay of up to 650 words. It’s supposed to be about you clues in the title, personal statement on that one. Um, and it gets sent to every school that you apply to using the Common App. The personal aspect of the personal statement doesn’t have to be intense while you’re welcome to discuss some personal moments or some deep feelings.
Personal statements can often take a lighthearted tone and irregularly about your relationship with events, experiences, thoughts, even objects of all kinds. Don’t feel that you have to open up your heart to the admissions committee to show you what I mean. I think there’s a better way of thinking by the personal statement rather than really being an essay or just one more requirement to check off the list.
I like to think of it as an opportunity. The personal statement is a unique opportunity to do several things, um, including to showcase your critical thinking. The personal statement is a chance to demonstrate to the admissions committee, how you think this sounds like a huge and admittedly, very complicated matter.
Um, but it’s easier to craft than you might expect the best personal statements. Show how you draw connections between all sorts of contrasting aspects of your life. They demonstrate how, what intellectually stimulates you and why. And they off the admissions committee, a glimpse into how you’ll perform both inside and outside of the classroom in college.
This is hugely important for your acceptance, as it can highlight a part of you. That’s impossible to find on paper anywhere else in your application. The rest of your application by and large, um, will probably resemble most other applications. So providing a look into how you think is really important.
That’s a lot of big things to cover. Um, and our discussion today will help you come up with some topics and then how to sort of massage the personal statement to help with that. Um, and as you’ll notice, um, many of the adjectives that I’ll use today to describe the personal statement, things like curious, thoughtful, reflective self-aware, um, don’t include things like emotional, deep poignant, or heartbreaking a personal statement can be all of those things.
Um, but again, most essays don’t dive into deepest fears or traumatic experiences. You can keep it upbeat in somewhat surface level, uh, in terms of your inner feelings, at least similarly, the personal statement is an opportunity to fill in any blanks in your application. This works in multiple ways. As you start to bring together the various parts of your application, you’ll likely start to notice.
And many of you perhaps have already noticed the ways in which various experiences and interests start to pop up more than others. Perhaps there’s an extracurricular that dominates your resume and your activity list. Um, that might also be at the root of a letter of recommendation. Maybe there’s a subject that appears again and again on your transcript, and might also show up in, say an art supplement.
If, so the personal statement is a fantastic chance to highlight another part of your background. Something that shows how well rounded you are, or perhaps you’ve noticed that something really important to you doesn’t actually show up in any of your existing application materials, or at least isn’t shown in any real depth.
These can be big things. For example, non-school activities like volunteering or a whole range of everyday activities or experiences in that case, the personal statement could do the opposite. Adding needed context and depth to something that plays a significant role in your life, but is hard or impossible to see on paper.
For examples like these, it’s often useful to think about explaining why you dedicated so much time to this activity or event and what it shows about you. In either case the essay can be a huge help in communicating to the admission committee, things that matter to you and why also the personal statement is a fun opportunity to be.
It’s an unusual type of essay. One that won’t feel completely familiar and should diverge the traditional expository essays that you’ve been writing so far in high school. You don’t have to think completely outside of the box here. Some students do write poetry or change up the genre considerably. Um, but I’m not necessarily recommending that unless you’re extremely confident about your skills as a poet, in which case, by all means, go ahead.
Instead, the type of creativity that most students bring to the personal statement is merely the kind that discourages straightforward paragraphs and encourages incisive hooks the use of dialogue, um, and certainly extensive use of the first person, unlike the resume or the layers of recommendation, or in some cases, even the interview, which are generally formulaic, um, with contours that are often said in stone, the essay provides a chance to surprise and delight the admissions committee, demonstrating your writing and creative skills.
Thinking about the personal statement as an opportunity rather than a requirement, should it demonstrate its importance as well as perhaps at least I hope, um, make it a bit more fun to write. As I mentioned, you don’t have to reach dramatic Heights of creativity with a personal statement. Um, but there are some more straightforward ways in which it differs from regular high school essays.
Most importantly, the personal statement should focus on you at heart. It should be autobiographical. You might have written a few essays that describe things that you’ve done thought or felt, or perhaps you might even keep a diary or a blog. All of these are important experiences that will feed into the personal statement, taking the time to interrogate what’s important to you.
Um, how you feel about certain aspects of your life or how you feel that you’ve changed over several years in high school is relevant here. If you don’t have much experience with this type of writing, don’t worry. You’re in the vast majority of high schoolers and I’ll offer some tips later to start thinking about how to write about.
Because the personal statement is so autobiographical, you probably won’t have a clear thesis statement either. In some cases, an explicit line about the topic of your essay can be helpful. Um, but it can often feel forced, unnecessary or repetitive to add in this type of personal writing. And if that’s the case, trust your gut.
Let the story that you’re telling develop naturally with the argument arising organically from it, remember that the admissions committee will have to prompt right in front of them. Um, and they’ll probably have read hundreds or maybe even thousands of essays that follow that same prompt. There’s no need to tell them explicitly what your argument is or what the point of your story is.
Trust it to become clear through your writing and your storytelling skills. In a moment, I’ll walk through one basic way to organize the personal statement that can help you move away from the usual introductory paragraph, um, with thesis statement and conclusion model. But before I do, I want to reiterate that you do have a lot of freedom.
Feel free to take the personal statement as a chance to incorporate grammatical and instructional aspects and techniques that likely don’t show up in a regular high school essay. Add in some dialogue to flesh out your narrative, particularly, um, if it revolves around things like cultural adjustments or disagreement, or maybe discussion with someone else, never worry about using I or the first person.
Anyway, this is definitely the time to pull it out as frequently as needed. You’re also welcome to incorporate hypothetical or even non hypothetical questions into the essay. Um, as well as even the occasional explanation point, whatever feels natural, you could even play around with basic elements of essay writing itself.
Uh, for example, one of the best Common App essays that I’ve read so far, this admission cycle was about a student overcoming their discomfort around speaking English, describing how they spoke in sentences that were as short as possible when they first moved the United States before settling into lengthy compound sentences, as they got more familiar with the language, their essay followed that exact model.
The first few paragraphs were composed of tiny fragmented sentences. Well, the last paragraphs overflow with extended prose. It was a really clever way of getting the reader’s attention and certainly crafted an essay that stood out at times though, even with only minor relaxation of typical expository essay norms, the personal statement can feel a bit casual.
Um, and that’s okay. As long as you’re continuing to use proper grammar and syntax, and you’re maintaining a clear narrative and that’s an important point actually, um, unless you have a very specific narrative reason to change up the grammar syntax, those aspects of the personal statement should still be quite formal.
Always be sure to proofread and edit your essay several times before submit. So now, uh, as promised, I’m going to break down what many Common App essays look like a note of caution though, before I begin, uh, what I have, what, what you see in front of you, um, is just one possible overview. One that I’ve concocted after reading hundreds of personal statements, please don’t take this as limiting in any way.
They are countless other ways of transforming and moving beyond, um, a basic essay structure. But I think it’s useful to work through only because it can be intimidating to know where to start, especially when you’re being encouraged to think outside the box. Also you’ll notice that each main section on this slide, those three introduction, body, paragraphs and conclusion is in quotation marks.
Um, that’s because although personal statements do tend to have an introduction, body, paragraphs, and conclusion, they don’t operate exactly the same way as they would in a five paragraph essay. So I use the terms a little loosely here they’re useful as basic guidelines. Um, but I don’t intend them as exact descriptions of the purpose of each of these sections.
Okay. So with all that being said, personal statements usually begin with an introduction of some sort. Because I’ve already noted these introductions as such rarely have a clear cut thesis statement. Instead they act as a hook drawing the reader into your essay, placing the reader in the middle of an event or a feeling, um, using a device that’s technically called for a moment of Latin practice in media Rez or in the middle of things is usually what I recommend.
Don’t be afraid to mix up the chronology of your story here, beginning with the climax or the most dramatic moment of your narrative, truly starting in the middle of the story. The basic idea here is to write a first paragraph that peaks the interest of the reader and ensures that they’ll keep reading to find out what on earth is going on.
I often recommend to my own advisees that they write the hook last. It’s usually easiest to craft out your entire narrative before pulling out the hook from the finished product that will give you a better sense of which particular moment of tension or intrigue, uh, might work best for the introductory hook.
Then a series of body paragraphs generally follow. These can be any in all length and certainly in any number. Sometimes it works best to have several short paragraphs. Uh, sometimes you could have just one or two longer. It all depends on your subject matter and how best you can communicate your story.
Make sure most importantly, that there’s a logical narrative, as long as you’re constructing a tale that moves clearly from point a to point B the shape of your essay tends to fall naturally in line. As you can imagine, these body paragraphs are most often chronological, but you might find other through lines that offer more logical or more creative narrative.
That’s absolutely fine. As long as your train of thought is plausible and can be followed easily. Finally, personal statements end with some sort of conclusion because it’s unlikely. You’ll have a clear cut thesis statement. There’s no need to restate a thesis as you might in ex in an expository essay.
Instead, try to tie back to the hook either referencing no bleakly using similar language or explicitly by drawing from the same moment, or even reiterating some part of the hook. Also the conclusion can be a useful place to connect the essay more explicitly to your plans in the future, because the personal statement will be sent to a range of schools.
You won’t be able to describe one or aspects of one by name, but you can make broader references to how this story will help shape your future in college and in your career. I wouldn’t take more than two sentences or so on this. That shouldn’t be a major part of your essay. Um, but it can be a nice way to be a little more pointed.
If you feel the need to get your point across strongly. Now, I recognize that this was all a very broad based discussion of the structure of an essay, but that’s because there really isn’t one single or one best way to write a personal statement. Still, if you have a hook followed biological narrative with a tie back to the hook of the end, the overall shape and structure of your essay will be right on the mark.
No matter how buried your topic will be, be. However, before you start crafting the essay, you have to come up with a topic. There’s an art to brainstorming, which I, uh, have certainly talked about before. Uh, I actually covered in great detail, uh, brainstorming in an earlier masterclass last month, which I hardly recommend to you.
Although of course I’m biased. Um, and over the next two slides I’ll offer a brief overlook at this brainstorming process. Um, but again, there’s much more to be said about brainstorming before you start writing. There are a few things that you can do to make that process as smooth and easy as possible. I strongly recommend that you start by reading essays that have already got students accepted to college, especially because the personal statement can feel very different than regular high school writing.
You might have friends and family willing to share their own personal statements, which can be a great start and guidance counselors or teachers sometimes have examples from former. But I especially recommend the resources that institutions themselves put out the so-called essays that worked pages, which feature examples of recent personal statements from admitted students.
I’m going to put one example in the chat right now. Um, but a quick search for essays that worked in the name of your dream school can often pull up essays from students who were accepted there. However, because the personal statement goes to every Common App school you’re applying to. Don’t worry. If you can’t find one for your particular dream school, looking through some successful personal statements from any institution will give you, um, not only a sense of the contours of the personal statement, uh, but also the types of creativity allowed, um, as well as some examples of subject matter.
And I should add it should go without saying that there’s no need to copy an individual student’s approach. Um, but certainly looking through these essays that worked as an invaluable start for getting the hang of the personal statement. After that, the best thing to do is check this year’s. The Common App prompts change very irregularly.
So chances are that, even if you’re an underclassman or if you’re one of our eighth graders, the prompts will still roughly be the, be the same by the time you’re ready to apply for college, the seven prompts can be found at the bottom of this page. I’ve just shared in the chat. As you start to think about writing the personal statement, look over these prompts for a while, comparing them with the essays that work, to see how successful applicants use them as starting points.
And as I mentioned, starting by writing the body of the essay first, crafting the story you want to tell, um, as the first piece of writing you do, uh, before worrying about the hook and the conclusion tends to work best, let those arise naturally from your writing, rather than trying to force an entire essay to fit your first paragraph.
But before you get to writing, what makes a good topic for the personal statement? I don’t wanna close the door on any topics, although I’m happy to offer some recommendations on sort of broader ideas about topics that you might want to avoid. Um, but these are a few broad suggestions to make sure that you’re on the right track.
Most importantly, ensure that your chosen topic is focused on you. Well, you’re certainly welcome to discuss an event, an object or another person always make sure that you’re tying that narrative back to you, keeping your experiences with it, or with them as the focus of your essay. As much as the personal statement is a chance to show up your writing skills.
It’s primarily an opportunity for the admissions committee to learn more about you. If you choose a life changing moment or a major experience as your topic, be cautious to ensure that the reader doesn’t lose sight of you and your voice, try to narrow down the big moments. If you can. What exactly about that moment was so inspiring or transformative.
Can you couch that moment, uh, say as part of a broader narrative of your interest in life and make sure that you don’t choose a topic that takes a ton of background information, any necessary background should be limited to only a sentence or two rather than a full paragraph so that you can move quickly to showing off your critical thinking and writing skills.
The essay should also compliment other parts of your application. As I’ve described, already try to use the personal statement to fill in some blanks or demonstrate your well-roundedness rather than petting an already narrow focus. This will help develop your personal brand, the parts of your application that distinguish you from other students, which our advisors can help you discern and develop, and always focus on showing rather than telling, instead of simply instructing the reader about what they should take from your essay, try to communicate the purpose of your essay through imagery and descriptions.
This is exactly what I mean, what, what I meant when I discouraged a straightforward thesis statement, make sure that the lessons you’ve drawn or the changes you’re describing shine through from the narrative. Instead, this also means that you should avoid simply listing accomplishments as any sort of topic.
Some of the best personal statements that I’ve read have focused on a seemingly unexpected thing, an everyday object, a basic aspect of someone’s life. If you don’t have an incredible story to tell that’s perfectly fine. And indeed, actually it sometimes works best. You’re not out to merely impress the admissions committee with your incredible experiences, but instead to show them how you think that act of showing, demonstrating how you can draw a larger narrative from a smaller event or a thing is the key here.
Think instead about how any accomplishments might have inherent value for the essay and for your application, this isn’t a resume and to use a baking metaphor, the proof should be in the pudding, um, rather than in a straightforward list. So what does this showing not telling look like in practice? I have two examples of ways to show rather than tell first, instead of a simple statement, like I navigate overcoming shyness through practicing public speaking, build this out with descriptive language and storytelling, something like the following.
I clenched my toes, pressing them deep into the souls of my shoes. I take a deep breath concentrating on the script I had just written, although it felt as terrifying as acting in a musical or testifying in court. My audience and jury were merely my peers from English too, waiting patiently for my class presentation on Emily Dickinson.
Do you see how the first example is simply telling the reader what happened while the second is showing through a story, crafting a narrative, it accomplishes the same thing, but shows off your skill as a writer and is so much more fun and much more interesting to read. Here’s another example, uh, rather than a basic recitation of something you learned, like I soon recognize that I did not have to make massive strides every day, guide the reader through exactly what you did, building out a story like the following.
After several weeks of careful practicing the solo passage became progressively less terrifying by breaking it down into individual measures. I could focus my attention on each note before I knew it. I was able to build out these small sections seamlessly perfecting the entire solo just in time for the performance.
You can tell I’m a, a music scholar. When I came up with that one in both of these examples, the basic point comes across just as clearly in the second example as it does in the first. But you can show off your creative side as well. Also you not only have a chance to dive into your experiences, but you’re crafting something that is just more fun, more interesting for the admissions committee to read showing rather than telling, demonstrating what you did to reach that conclusion rather than just presenting the conclusion itself is paramount in every case, although at a basic level, uh, this approach can help fill 650 words.
It certainly is much longer, um, than the others. There’s a lot of benefits to showing as much as possible rather than just simply telling. Okay. So we’re about halfway through, um, and I have plenty more information and advice. Um, but now I want to hand it back to McKenzie. Yes. So real quick, we’re gonna do another poll.
So where are you in the application process? Haven’t started, I’m researching schools. I’m working on my essays. I’m getting my application material together, or if you’re really lucky, I’m almost done. And while we wait for those, um, responses to Roland Gareth, can you tell us, um, what can students start doing now to begin the process?
Yeah, sure. Um, I’m gonna walk through a couple of sort of basic outlines, um, in the next slide. Um, but I do have some advice, um, for those students out there, especially since we do have some younger students, um, who are sort of stuck for a topic or staring at a blank piece of paper, um, and that’s to engage in some self-reflection, this doesn’t have to be super philosophical, um, or even necessarily strategically focused instead, especially, um, if you’re at the beginning of the process, spend some time every day, maybe just a minute or two reflecting on your daily activities, think of it, maybe a bit like keeping a diary.
Um, but instead of recording the recording, the big things, the big events in your life, think more about the little things. Um, the point is to write about how you think. Um, so for some examples, consider maybe how you problem solve, how you tackle chores, what makes you happy, uh, what you find yourself doing in your free time, things like that, um, that can easily become a daily exercise that really feeds nicely into the writing.
yes. I like to tell my students to write about something they can rant about . Um, so that’s always fun and it’s looking like we have 20%, haven’t started 38% of researching schools. 24% are working on their essays. 16% are getting their application materials together. And 2%, the lucky you are almost done and you can control the slides.
Awesome. Thank you very much. Um, so I have some advice for all of you. Um, certainly for those of you who haven’t started with anything yet, I do recommend that self-reflection, it’s a good way to get started, especially if the deadlines are a long way off. Um, and they’re, and the topics that you might write about could change considerably.
Um, but, uh, I’ve, I’ve sort of broken down a rough timeline for writing by year in high school. Um, and, and I do recommend thinking that, of this in terms of your progress through the application. So if you’re say, uh, junior, who’s just beginning to think about college, feel free to place yourself back in the freshman category for a moment as painful as that might be.
Um, this is all to say that the timeline could actually occur over four years, like it does on this slide. Um, or it could just take four months based on where you are in school and how far along you are in the. The important thing with any timeline like this one is to be honest with yourself, uh, and create a realistic timeline, especially as you need to gather a whole range of other application materials.
It’s not just the personal statement. So if you are just starting on the exciting path of the college application process, I recommend bringing, uh, or beginning with the brainstorming process and looking at some of those prompts, um, that I shared with you earlier. Start small here. You might read some examples of essays that worked, um, especially finding a range of essays to get a good sense of all the possibilities.
Ask friends and family. If they have their successful essays and start to build towards some specific topics in your mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone here today already has some ideas floating around, um, for things that might work, write down some observations about the prompts, how they might fit, um, into possible topics.
You’ll thank me later, if you actually do write these things down, um, so that you have them, when you begin to draft the essay, this is especially true. If you’re a freshman in high school or an eighth grader, um, as you won’t be able to remember these observations years later, and being able to ponder how you’ve grown as a person and as a thinker, since you wrote those down, um, can also be invaluable as you continue down the path.
It’s time to begin considering how your essay will fit into the rest of your application, how it fits the context, um, how it might compliment or accentuate, um, or certainly fill in, um, for the other materials, you’ll probably find that some topics might be less valuable than expected if they’re purely repetitive and that some unexpected parts of your life may make for some really thoughtful topic.
There’s no need to carefully pour over the rest of your application to think about these topics. Um, and as again, I have no doubt that you already have in mind, some broader themes that will be present or missing in your application as a whole, as you approach test season, or you can sort of start to see the deadlines in the horizon.
It’s always a good idea to pick a topic and to start drafting if you’re still uncertain, which topic might work, go ahead and take two, seeing which one works best, uh, which topic helps your thoughts flow the easiest. If you have a topic that you’re certain about that you, that you already love, see how far you can get by following that train of.
As we’ve already discussed, it’s generally easier and more logical to begin by crafting the narrative, saving the hook and conclusion for later. So just see what, see what feels natural and go with that. If, and it sounds like a couple of you are, you’re a senior and you’re well on the way to completing your applications.
It’s definitely time to start writing. If you haven’t already don’t panic. It is only September, but the sooner that you can start a full draft of your essay, the better as you’ll soon have to turn to supplemental essays or non-com app essays in the coming months as well. You also have more time for the editing stage.
The sooner you begin in which you entrusted mentors of all kinds, uh, teachers, family members, CollegeAdvisor advisees will not only look at grammatical and Sy tactical errors, um, but also make sure that the essay fits the prompt accurately and describes you successfully. Don’t be discouraged at this stage if the first draft leaves a lot of room for improvement early drafts are never perfect.
I can say that with certainty, especially for a type of essay, like the personal statement, that might feel a bit different to. Also, don’t worry too much. If you receive the advice to pick a new topic from one of those mentors or adjust your topic to another prompt, this is extremely common. And the more time that you can give yourself to work through the hiccups, the better after a few drafts, you’ll also be a pro at personal statement and ready to turn to the rest of the admittedly shorter and often more straightforward essays as part of your application.
As you’re in the process of picking a prompt or perhaps matching an existing essay with a prompt, I do want to take a moment to discuss the Common App prompts themselves. Those seven prompts that I shared the link to earlier. I sometimes get questions about the relative value of one prompt over another.
And the short answer is to not worry too much about that at all. They’re all the same. That admissions committees will never judge you for picking one over the other. It’s about how the essay reflects you personally, and the individual prompt rather than how it works within some sort of matrix of all of these prompts together.
Yet, with that being said, there is one exception, the last prompt prompt number seven, which offers you the chance to, uh, and I’ll let me find, and I’ll quote it. Formally share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written. One that responds to a different prompt or one of your own design.
Now it might be tempting, especially if you’ve written a first person essay of some kind before, either in school or out of school to just drop that into the application and not worry about writing a new essay. I strongly recommend against this and almost always discourage students from following this option.
There are exceptions, especially if you plan on thinking way outside the box and including poetry or some other non essay form, which can be especially useful if you’re applying for creative writing or arts programs, if that’s you, uh, and you’re in the audience for this, feel free to ignore this slide for the moment.
Um, but for the vast majority of cases for almost all of you, the answer to whether you should share an essay on any topic of your choice, um, is almost certainly. Now there are a few essays, sorry. There are a few reasons for this. As I’ve said, many times, the personal statement will likely feel different from essays that you’ve written before.
And that’s a good thing. It’s not supposed to be like a usual high school assignment. So if you’re adapting something that you wrote for a class or for an essay competition at the very least ensure that it fills all the norms that we’ve talked about this evening in terms of structure, content, and grammar.
With that being said, most essays actually can be adapted to the prompts themselves. And this is where prompt number seven really starts to fall apart. Nearly every single essay that I’ve read that responded to the create your own prompt worked perfectly well for one of the other prompts they’re vague open ended and addressed things that every high schooler has an answer for in some way, because they invite so many possible answers with broad terms, like an accomplishment, uh, an obstacle, a belief, or an idea, an identity, an interest, a concept sort of broad based terms like that.
It’s highly likely that any essay that you’ve, that you’re imagining for prompt number seven would easily fit into one of the others. And there’s good reason to massage it enough to fit the admissions committee is looking for someone not only who’s well-rounded and interesting, but also someone who’s able to follow directions, able to complete an assignment in short, someone who will be able to do well in college classes.
It can sometimes raise a question, mark, if you choose prompt number seven, and I generally don’t think it’s worth the risk. If however, you are wedded to an essay that you’ve written before, or if you have some piece of writing that you think is your strongest writing so far, you’re certainly welcome to borrow elements of it.
If not the entire thing, this is really what I mean about adjusting an essay to fit one of the other prompts. You have lots of leeway to borrow an approach say, or a writing style, even the core of your topic without utilizing the entire existing essay. And of course, you’re also more than welcome to incorporate elements of freer essays into supplemental essays or non-com app essays that sometimes have much more creative prompts.
Uh, I think for example, the University of Chicago is a great example of a school that offers a whole range of very creative questions, um, that applicants can respond to and often essays that you’ve already written can fit very well as certainly much easier into those prompts, um, than into the Common App, uh, prompt.
Okay. So, um, as we start to sort of move towards the Q&A, in a few minutes, um, to close what’s next, you can start thinking ahead to supplemental essays if you’ve already, um, done quite a lot of work on the, on the personal statement or if you’ve already, um, completed much of the writing. Um, and those supplemental essays are in some ways, just like the personal statement, even though supplemental essays may be a subject for different masterclass.
Um, they are also opportunities to fill in the blanks and to continue showing off your creative. They build on many of the skills that we’ve discussed today. Um, but in a couple of ways are easier to write largely because they’re focused on a particular school. So you can sort of hone them in more directly to a school or a program.
Um, and they’re generally quite a bit shorter. However, if you’re applying to a lot of schools, you’ll likely have a lot of supplemental essays, especially depending on which schools you’ve chosen. So take advantage of the work that you’ve done on the personal statement to avoid getting overwhelmed by them as deadlines approach that can happen in a couple of different ways.
Um, at a basic level, of course, if you’ve already written the personal statement, then you have even more time for the supplemental essays. But if you’ve engaged in some drafting or some brainstorming, if you’ve worked through some of the prompts and found some that don’t work as well, you’re always welcome to take some of that material that you’ve rejected for whatever reason and apply to the, to the supplemental essays.
So don’t feel like any time that you’ve spent brainstorming, um, or working through early aspects of the essay is wasted in almost every case that sort of self-reflection, that’s thinking through your application, um, will be able to slot itself in, in another part of the application. And if you’re turning to the essay relatively early, Early in your application process, if you’re perhaps, uh, well before a senior and you’ve already started writing, um, which I think is always a good idea, feel free to take the topic that you’ve chosen as a starting point for your personal brand, those aspects of your application that help distinguish you from other students.
I mentioned very briefly earlier about using your personal brand to come up with your topic, thinking about how that topic can interact with other parts of your application and, and parts of your resume. But this can work the other way around as well. If you start early enough, if you have a topic in mind and you’ve already started writing, tell your recommenders what you’ve written about and how they could help supplement or reinforce it in their letters.
Think about how the supplemental essays themselves and perhaps even the interview could fulfill a similar purpose or provide a counterpoint to your argument of experiences that you’re conveying in the personal statement. Consider if there’s anything you might want to write in the anything else you want to know, question on the application proper.
Um, and of course, when you finish with a personal statement, I strongly recommend that you pat yourself on the back in many ways after the personal statement is complete, the hardest part of the college application is over. Okay. So we’ve sort of just now finished the presentation part. We have plenty of time for Q&A.
And so I’ll hand it back to McKenzie. Um, we’ll handle the questions, answers. Thank you very much. Yes. Wow. That was perfect timing. um, so that is the end of the presentation part of the webinar. I hope you found this information helpful and remember that you can download the side from the link in the handouts tab.
And there are some links and comments in the public chat that do not get saved, um, with the webinar. So if you want those do copy and paste them and save them elsewhere. Um, but moving on to the live Q&A I’ll read through your questions you submitted in the Q&A tab and read them aloud before our panelist gives you an answer as a heads up, if your Q&A tab, isn’t letting you submit questions, just make sure that you join the webinar through the custom links in to your email and not from the webinar landing page.
Also known as the website or else you won’t get all the features of the big markers. So just make sure that you join through the custom link, uh, to start us off. This is always the big question. Um, so students often worry about originality and standing out amongst a large application pool. Um, what is your suggestion to really help them with standing out.
There are, I think, two answers to that question. Um, the first one is to not worry so much about it. Um, I wouldn’t spend a lot of time panicking about how you line up against the thousands of other students who are writing similar essays. I wouldn’t spend a ton of time panicking about what the admissions committee or what you think the admission committee wants to read.
Um, this should be personal. This should be tied to you. Um, and so at some level, as long as you’re writing a good story, as long as you’re revealing more about yourself tying between various parts of your application, the personal statement will have done its job. I think often the aspects of creativity are not necessarily in the most exciting story, the sort of craziest thing that you’ve done.
Um, but it’s in the creative writing itself. It’s in the it’s in the clever takes, um, on unexpected things, um, that can really make you stand out. So on one side don’t panic too much. Um, and, and on the other sort of think about, uh, part of the reason I recommend self-reflection is to think about basic elements of your life, everyday activities, um, things that occur around you, things that you think of on a daily basis, um, Draw bigger lessons from those rather than sort of starting big in drawing.
And that can be one really good way to stand out. And I think sort of a, a very clever approach, um, that sort of pushes back against, uh, perhaps some of the basic answers that the prompts invite when they ask about something like a big accomplishment or a big event to sort of take something smaller and build outwards from it.
Um, in my experience is one really sort of tried and true way to, to stand out and be a little unique with your approach. Mm-hmm um, for those, uh, okay. So, uh, to kind of structure this a bit more, we’ll go over like the admission side of it and how the application works on that end. And then we’ll go into like, um, topics and more niche stuff.
Um, but also please don’t vote on your questions cuz it disrupts the order of the, um, Q&A, uh, suggest like leave it UN vote. We’ll get to as soon as possible. Um, but going up to the next question, what are admissions officers looking for in the personal statement? Yes, that is a very good question. And again, I wouldn’t panic too much about it.
I think I’ve seen a lot of students who have, um, really, really sort of spent a lot of time worrying about exactly the mission reader wants to, wants to see, trying to adjust their essay to fit exactly them. The truth of the matter is that you’ll have a whole range of admissions readers who will be reading a whole ton of essays probably on that day itself in a whole range of contexts.
Um, and so don’t panic too much about that aspect, but really I think, um, they’re going to be looking not necessarily, um, again, for those crazy experiences, um, for those big things that you’re done, but they’ll be looking to see how you think. How you act, how you regard the world around you. So as long as you’re showing off your critical thinking skills in, in, in one of any variety of ways, um, your relationship with events, experiences, thoughts, um, connecting between various aspects of your application between your life.
That’s what the admission committee at, at a basic level, um, is looking for. Um, as well as of course, um, how the essay positions itself in relation to the rest of your application, the things that I’ve talked about, like filling into blanks, um, or, uh, showing your well-roundedness, it it’s, it’s more focused on those, those basic ways that you think, um, and ways that you regard yourself than on any specific topic, um, or any particular experience.
Yes. And kind of going off of that, um, do you think you should submit different essays to different schools? So like, um, send a different sort of essay topic essentially to different schools when you’re submit. That’s a really good question. Um, that really depends because of course, for the Common App, personal statement, you don’t have that choice, right?
You write one personal statement that gets sent to every school that you’re using the Common App to apply for. But, um, if you’re applying for schools that don’t, uh, accept the Common App, or if you’re really going all and on the college application process, and you’re applying to more than 20 schools in the Common App, uh, and you have to apply elsewhere because they limit you at 20 schools, um, that can, that can often be a really good thing to do.
I think just because, um, at a basic level, it’ll save you a lot of time. If you feel like there’s a prompt that is particularly close, um, to your Common App prompt, there’s already gonna be a ton of writing. Um, and so, uh, sort of borrowing your Common App, um, personal statement essay for a different kind of application, um, can be real.
However, um, to your direct question, I do think that there can be, uh, a couple of positives to writing a different essay. Um, if you do have any doubt about the applicability of the personal statement to an essay prompt in another, uh, college application, I would recommend starting a fresh, um, don’t try to sort of force something into that box, um, or try to convince ’em that it’s an essay that, that isn’t really fitting the prompt.
Um, that doesn’t mean that you have to go back to the drawing board completely. Um, I think you can probably take sections or sort of change the topic slightly. There’s all sorts of ways that you can take some small, um, sort of the, the basic focus of your essay, whether that’s an experience, um, an activity, something that’s changed, um, and apply it to a range of different essays and criteria.
Um, so I wouldn’t necessarily sort of start, um, from, from the drawing board again, but at the same time, I would sort of apply a little bit of caution, um, to just taking that personal statement and sort of plunking it into every different application that you have. So. Sorry, I’m hedging my bets on that question a bit, but it really does depend on what type of schools you’re applying to and, and how close the props are.
Yes. Uh, going on to the next question, how does the essay, um, play into the overall admissions process? Yeah, that’s a really great, great question. Um, and I know I’ve certainly got a lot of questions from students that ask sort of similar things like, um, if the, if a really great essay can cover up any, you know, bad grades, um, or if a really bad essay can tank your application entirely.
Um, I think it’s unlikely to truly be transformative. I mean, I think if you have, you know, not a great GPA, but like an excellent essay that isn’t necessarily going to, you know, guarantee you, uh, a rooted to the Ivy league. Um, but I do think it can make a pretty substantial difference. Um, as I mentioned so many other parts of your application are going to look very much like everyone else’s right.
There’s not a lot of change in the resume. You know, interviews tend to follow sort of a set series of questions. Um, the supplemental essays, because they’re more targeted towards a school or a major tend to have sort of a much smaller, um, level of possible topics and discussions. And so the Common App essay, the personal statement can be your chance, um, to be a bit more creative, to show off your writing skills, to show your critical thinking skills.
Um, and so I think it can have, have quite a significant impact, um, both positively and negatively, um, in terms of the topic that you’ve chosen and how you’ve approached it. Um, but also at a basic level too, you know, the grammar, the syntax, all colleges are looking for someone who can write well and can do well in college classes.
Um, so even the sort of basic nitty gritty of the essay can be quite important to the application. Hmm. Uh, another student is asking, what is the suggested length, if any, for an essay? Yeah, so for the personal statement, um, there is a word maximum of 650 words. Um, I don’t necessarily, uh, always recommend that students try to shoot as close to 650 as possible.
I’ve had many students in the past who have been so proud that they’ve reached 649 words or 651 words. And just have to find one to cut. Don’t worry about being as close to that as possible. Um, it it’s admissions committees. Aren’t gonna look at your word count that carefully. Um, we’re try to see if you sort of worked to get, uh, right up to 650.
Um, with that being said, though, I also wouldn’t have an essay that’s too short. There is technically a word minimum. I think it’s 250 words. Um, you might be one 50, I’m doubting myself a sudden. Um, but it’s 250. OK. Um, so as long as it’s towards the higher range of 650, somewhere around, say at least 500 words at a minimum, um, then you’ll be totally fine, but, uh, Generally for college essays of all kinds, the personal statement, supplemental essays, they’ll have a pretty strict, um, word limit.
So for example, if you have an essay, that’s say 700 words and you try to plug it into the Common App, those last words will just get cut off. So do make sure that you are following those instructions pretty carefully. Mm-hmm uh, going on to the next question. Um, a student is asking, uh, where can I get, where did it go?
Um, okay. Um, and I lost it. Oh my gosh. I, I, okay. Is there somewhere I can go to help, um, go, to get help with writing, uh, the essay or to get it proof read. Well, of course you can come to CollegeAdvisor. , we’re always help, happy to take you on, um, as an advising and help with that. Um, but there’s also all sorts of other, um, places that you can go to, um, around you.
I think often parents, if they’ve been to college and gone through the process are always helpful with this, especially, um, for not only the sort of grammar and syntax, but for telling you if it’s in fact truthful um, if it seems like it’s actually communicating. Uh, things about you that they think actually reflect you, um, and, and do reflect your experiences.
Um, teachers, I, in my experience, you’re always happy to help, um, with some of these basics, especially ones that, you know, quite well or ones who are writing letters of recommendation for you, again, both the sort of broader questions about, um, the shape of your topic and how the essay works as well as if you just want someone to do some quick line editing and making sure everything is grammatically and synthetically.
Correct. Um, I wouldn’t necessarily, uh, go off and try to, you know, contact a Stu a current student at say, you know, brown university who’s studying in your major. Some students, uh, think that’s a good idea. I, I would be some if they reply to you, frankly. Um, but that’s definitely not something that any current undergraduate student expects, um, the same as true for admissions committees.
Um, you might have seen, for example, um, any of you who are applying to say, uh, visual arts programs that they’re often happy to look over portfolios, that’s generally not the case for essays. It’s very rare, a. Um, office would be willing to sort of give it a glance over before you officially apply. So sort of restricted to the people who know you best, they’re generally the ones, um, who will be able to offer you the best advice.
Um, whether some, like an advisor you’re working with every long period of time, um, or a family member or a teacher they’re, they’re really key in this process. Yes. And kind of going off of that, about how long does, is the editing process for the personal statement. That’s a really good question. Um, almost always longer than you expect , um, because it sort of falls into two categories.
There’s again, that sort of basic line editing process, um, where you sort of read over it a couple times, you sort of have as many people as you can look over it. Even friends who can just sort of help catch those little grammatical mistakes. Um, but there’s also that broader process of working with the topic.
Um, making sure that the prompt that you’ve picked is the best one. I mean, that’s why I really recommend, um, taking a little bit of time to do some brainstorming, to, to look over the prompt, look over some essays that worked to make sure that you have a firm sense. Of how your ideas can best fit those existing prompts.
Um, so that if for whatever reason, a mentor tells you, you know, Hey, this doesn’t seem like the best prompt for you. This doesn’t seem like the best topic for you. You have some things to fall back on, you have some things to sort of fill in the blanks with. Um, so I would say on a conservative end of that editing process yeah, probably a month, if you sort of really dedicate time to it, thinking about the essay itself and then spending some, some careful editing.
Um, so plenty of time still here at the end of September. Um, but yeah, I, I would definitely not try to undershoot the, the editing process in any way, especially as it’s best to give it to people who will then have to read it and get it back to you. And so that sort of expands the process of it. Yes. And I can attest to this because three years ago, today I was in y’all’s shoes of applying to college and I, over the summer I was in a scholars program.
And so I started my personal statement, ended up changing my topic, like halfway through, and then that topic still. Wasn’t good. So, um, about August, September timeframe, I, um, was rewriting my personal statement once more for the third time. And then, um, I was also applying early decision for Cornell university.
So I only had about, uh, two-ish months to write it. So it was enough time. It was just. It, it was a process, but it was well worth it in the end, but kind of going off of that for those in the room who are Al who aren’t already working with us, we know how overwhelming the admissions process can be for parents and students alike, especially with trying to brainstorm a topic.
Um, a lot of students aren’t used to this sort of writing and it can be kind of weird to sort of have to figure out what to write about yourself. What to show off to someone who doesn’t know you. So our team of over 300 former admissions officers and admissions experts, such as Gareth are ready to, to help you and your family navigate it all.
One-on-one advising sessions, um, take charge of your family’s college admissions journey by signing up for a free strategy session with an admissions expert by using the QR code on the. Um, by working with CollegeAdvisor, um, you get time spent with your advisor who can really help get to know you and sit with you and figure out some great topics.
I know with my students, I really love just brainstorming the different ideas, just seeing, getting to know who they are before even getting into the brainstorming phase, just to have some sort of things to go off of bouncing ideas off of each other. And also within CollegeAdvisor, by signing up, you get access to our wonderful essay review team with Gareth.
Can you tell us a little bit more about that? Sure. Of course. So, um, advisors who are working one-on-one with students regularly send us, um, all kinds of essays there, Common App, um, personal statements, supplemental essays for a whole range of schools. Um, other shorter essays that occurred during the admission cycle and when we have a big team.
Over 20, um, very accomplished essay, reviewers, people who like me are in PhD programs and are sort of writing for a living. Um, we have some admissions, some former admissions officers at schools who have read personal statements for their living. Um, and we’re happy to offer advice on all things, all the things we’ve been talking about today, about topics and prompts.
Um, some careful glances at, uh, grammar and syntax, really everything, all we can even help you pick between two essays if you’re really stuck, um, between two different options and we’re happy to offer all of that advice and assistance. Yes. And the essay review team has a great, um, process. Uh, I was initially on it, but perhaps, oh, right.
I should also add, uh, very quickly too, that, uh, we get those essays back to you in 24 hours. It’s a 24 hour review process, which is hugely helpful. Um, as you’re going through, what, as we’ve already mentioned, it’s quite a long editing process, especially with deadlines approaching. So we get right back to you.
with every. It is great. and the, so, yeah, so you could sign up, um, for, uh, CollegeAdvisor by scanning the QR code on the screen, and you can also go to app.CollegeAdvisor.com to set up a free account, um, just to navigate, um, our portal and, um, keep up with application deadlines, look at schools and a bunch of other features.
Uh, so yeah, so now back to the Q&A, uh, so now going into like essay topics is there’s a such thing as a cliche story. And then if so, how do you make a cliche story? More original. That’s a really good question. I am. I, I would generally lean on an answer of no for a cliche story. My sense is if it’s truly personal to you and it really engages with an important aspect, an important experience in your life.
Um, it’s not cliche, obviously there are topics that a lot of students write about. Um, you know, cultural transitions is very common. Um, a lot of students will write about, um, athletics or some sort of injury on the, on the sports field. A lot of students write about a particular passion, especially if it’s something extracurricular, like music guilty in that regard when I was grad, when I was applying for college.
Um, and that’s perfectly okay if you are, um, If, if that’s true to you, because really the art of the personal statement isn’t necessarily so much, um, avoiding a cliche topic as it is, making sure that your description of it is creative, um, that you are engaging with it in an intriguing way. Um, so I wouldn’t panic necessarily about that.
If you, if you have some topics in mind and you worry that they’re cliche, um, just make sure that they are truly personal, they’re driven, um, by your experiences, not by sort of what you expect the admissions committee to read. Um, and that you’re sort of avoiding cliche language as well. Right. We wanna sort of, I would say that the, the cliche aspects of the personal statement generally occur in, uh, the sort of basic cliche phrases, um, that you’ll certainly be encouraged to avoid by anyone who glances over your essay.
yes. Uh, kind of going off of that. Is there any topic that is too personal for this. Yeah, that’s, that’s a tough question. Um, I wouldn’t necessarily say too personal, um, but there are a couple of topics, um, that I would recommend sort of shifting away from. Um, remember, um, as I mentioned before, not only are, uh, is the college or is the, um, admissions team looking for a student?
Who’ll do well in class, um, and in, in their writing assignments in college, but they’re also looking for someone who will succeed in college life in general. it’s a difficult transition to college and everyone knows that. Um, so I do recommend, um, avoiding sort of very blatantly dark topics. Um, if you’ve had some really difficult experiences in your life, um, those can certainly be a part of your essay.
Um, but I wouldn’t dwell for a long time on say like serious mental health crises or any big struggles like that. Um, again, those can certainly be talked about, and I, but I would couch them very much in the language of, um, overcoming or sort of the ways that you’ve, you’ve learnt to deal with, um, those issues rather than sort of really dwelling in those moments.
I, I I’ve read a couple of very dark essays and they certainly do raise questions. Um, and, and they can be a little concerning. So, um, again, it’s not necessarily on the personal factor, you could, you can certainly write about your deepest fears or your desires or, or things that have really affected you in a deep way.
Um, but just always make sure that it, um, that there’s that broader narrative towards accomplishment or learning, uh, or a transition, um, in the way you regard the world or, or your experiences in some way. Yes, uh, kind of going off of that, uh, what are some topics, words, ideas, or things that should not be shared in the personal statement?
Is there anything that would be inappropriate to write about? Well, I mean, at a basic level, uh, I would say I wouldn’t write about anything that you wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about in class. Um, so obviously there’s sort of a level of inappropriateness there at a basic level, um, that I’d avoid. Um, but really this, this can be a chance to, to be very personal.
I mean, some students do take this, um, as, as an opportunity to talk about some, some very private aspects of their life. Um, and again, as long as it’s not sort of explicit, uh, in a, you know, in that side of explicitness, um, or, uh, that it’s, uh, or that it’s necessarily, um, again, discouraging to the admissions committee or sort of puts you in a light, um, that’s not positive.
Um, I wouldn’t worry too much about avoiding topics. It’s it’s again, it’s really how you’re discussing them. It’s the narrative that you’re drawing, um, then necessarily be. The, the individual thing, um, that you’re using is the basis, um, for your essay. I hope that helps, sorry. I feel like that’s, uh, again, heading hedging my bets a little bit on that answer.
yes. And, um, some things that I was told throughout, um, not really remembering who the audience is and not like getting too informal where you’re using too many colloquialisms or, um, unless you’re talking about culture and that’s different, but, um, too many colloquialisms or texting language, given the context or, um, curse words where like sort of an area you may not wanna dwell, unless it’s like so important to your story.
Yes. Yeah. Sorry. I left that part outta my answer completely. Yeah. I think like, like, as we were talking about sort of grammatical or some tactical changes is having them as part of your narrative. Um, yeah. If you have text speak, um, or if you’re using slang in some way, um, that can be really valuable as part of your, your story, but make sure that it’s contributing to the story itself.
You not just sort of adding it, um, in there. And of course also, you know, we’re talking about a lot of negative, um, subjects, but I also, again, recommend that you don’t just stress your accomplishments. You don’t just talk about sort of a list of achievements. Um, this definitely isn’t the space for that.
You have a resume, you can, of course focus on one big, exciting moment in your life. Um, but again, as part of a broader narrative, it shouldn’t just be sort of a celebration of you of all the things that make you great. There’s plenty of time for that in other parts of the application, especially that is recommendation.
Um, so don’t worry too much about just sort of fitting in as many of your conferences as possible. The, the, the skill here is to focus in on one thing and write critically about it. Mm-hmm uh, well kind of going off of that, a student was asking should focus on one specific topic, or can you cover various topics that are important to you?
I think that’s sort of, uh, it, it depends, this is a grad student answer, but it depends a little bit on what, um, topic, what, what you mean by topic there. So if you mean a series of different experiences, um, a series of different activities, that’s certainly okay. As long as there’s a very clear through line.
So, um, if you’re talking about sort of several different through lines, several different, um, modes of thinking about things, probably not make sure that you do have sort of one clear narrative that connects between, um, things or tells a story of some kind. Um, but yeah, if that story sort of wanders off and connects various different aspects of your life, if it acts, um, in some way as a demonstration of, um, sort of what underlies for you, your interest in a variety of different activities, a variety of different experiences, that’s certainly encouraged.
Um, but yeah, sort of when you, when you begin to move into, um, when you feel like you have several different, true individual topics, rather than just sort of, um, aspects of the rest, if that makes sense, um, that, that you can start to get into a little bit of trouble. I also, sorry, I do have one other I’ve that I thought of, um, for the past couple of questions about possible topics to avoid, sorry.
They keep coming to mind. Um, I also would recommend against being explicitly political. Um, you can certainly mention activism in some way, um, where some deeply held beliefs. Um, but I wouldn’t sort of take it as, as a chance for a political of some kind, um, or some sort of dramatic, um, political focus that, that can often sort of rub admissions, uh, readers the wrong way, depending on the schools you’re applying to mm-hmm , uh, going off.
Well, this one is a different question, but, uh, is the essay kind of like a story or is that, is that how it’s supposed to be written or. Given the structure. Yeah. I’ve used the phrase storytelling a lot. Um, and although you’re certainly welcome to take that as the foundation for your essay, sort of telling a very free, um, and creative story like that, it doesn’t necessarily have to be so far away from an essay itself.
Um, the focus here is really on a structured narrative. And so if you lean more towards the narrative or more towards the structure, , um, either of approach is okay. Um, as long as there’s a very clear, um, emphasis, there’s this sort of a, a clear through line, um, on, on what your essay is. So I would, I, I, I would tend to encourage student to think of it as a story.
Yes. Um, because I think that sort of gets you thinking more about, um, the personal aspects of it, the more about how it can connect between various aspects of your life. Um, but if the idea of writing a story terrifies you, if you’ve ever sort of engaged in creative storytelling before, um, that’s okay. It doesn’t have to have sort of that much for you.
It doesn’t have to read like, um, a novel, um, as long as there is a, a narrative of some kind, um, that is, that is clearly run through this center via. Yes. And so you mentioned having a personal brand or like a holistic application. So some students are asking if their essay has to relate, um, to something, uh, that they’ve already said or to their career interest or passions, or can it just be on anything?
It can definitely just be on anything. Um, certainly, uh, there are some excellent Tal savings that I’ve read that do talk about. Um, deep loves, uh, their there sort of their, their hopes for their career. Um, their hopes for college, um, that I think that’s sort of very much encouraged in the first, uh, common at prompt that talks about, um, you know, significant accomplishments or things that you, things in your life that, um, you can’t live without that I often a lot of students take that to discuss, um, either super important extracurriculars or super important academic things.
So don’t feel that you can’t do that. Um, but at the same side, uh, I’ve read some excellent essays about sort of some very small things. Um, I can actually give you, um, some examples, uh, Of sort of essays about like very small, um, sort of seemingly unrelated things. So like for example, um, I remember a, a fantastic personal statement, um, about, for one student, the life changing valuable library card where they didn’t wanna be a librarian.
Um, they sort of opened up all these worlds for them, um, that helped them in all aspects of their life. Um, I’ve read a really wonderful essay about watching cosmos, um, the TV show, um, not by an astrophysicist, um, but by someone who, you know, just enjoyed the time with their dad, learned a lot from the program was able to explain how that changed their relationship, um, to.
A whole range of things to TV, um, to science, uh, to their relationship with their parent. Um, I, I, gosh, I’ve even read one about the importance of a microwave in a student’s life of just sort of one of those things that they truly couldn’t live without, um, an example of a really creative approach there.
Um, so yeah, I wouldn’t worry on either side of that. If you, if you have some topics that don’t seem to connect with your career focus that’s okay. Um, if you have some ideas that do connect with your career focus, that’s perfectly fine as well. If you’re applying to some very, very specific programs, um, say like if you’re applying to a conservatory of music, if you’re applying to an art school, if you’re applying, um, in some cases to a very niche engineering school, um, you can often discuss that in your personal statement, but again, for those programs, you’ll have many more options of supplemental essays, um, or an often some school specific essays to describe your experiences and your backgrounds with a particular academic subject or a career.
So, um, it can go either way. Yes. And for students looking for some examples or some inspiration, uh, there are links in the chat, um, where you can go to, to find, um, more stories. And then also on our [email protected] slash blogs, um, you can find some essay guides and some different topics, and you can just even Google, um, essay, um, personal statement topics, and it’ll pull up different essays.
Uh, but going on to the next, uh, question. So those examples you gave were very creative, uh, and some students wonder how can, well, I’ll phrase it differently. How can students who may not be as expressive in their writing or feel as creative, um, still get across their personality to admissions officers?
Do you have any writing tips? I do. So I think there’s sort of a general approach that works really well with creative essays like that, um, that you can take on with any type of subject. Um, so. At it’s very hard essays like that. Um, look at something very small, something unpredictable, um, even something sort of formulaic or something that you do every day.
Um, rather than the big trips, the big accomplishments, the importance of something big in your life. Um, and that focus on the unexpected sort of flips it around, um, and connects to those broader themes. So as I’ve described, in those examples, you take something small, like a microwave, um, and you draw, um, out from that to, to, to discuss, um, broader aspects of your life, broader things that you’re interested in.
Um, bigger ways to connect with you. Now, if you’re having trouble, even thinking of something like a microwave, uh, and it’s important in your life, I do recommend engaging in some self-reflection. Um, again, it doesn’t have to be that specific or that small. Um, there are, you know, excellent essays about, um, you know, big aspects, big, important, um, aspects of people’s lives.
Um, but the more that you begin to think about, say. Connects your love of, um, two very different things. Like if you are, uh, a science major, um, if you’re, if you’re planning on being a science major, but you also, um, play the flute, um, to talk about the connect between those, if you, if you love to knit, uh, and you are, and you love, um, uh, let’s say, and you’re a math major to sort of think about maybe is there a mathematical construction and the knitting and the patterns that you really like, it’s little things like that, um, that can connect between, um, different aspects of your life that yeah.
Help with your personal brand, um, can and can help you if you, if you feel a little stuck for that creative side of BSA, mm-hmm, like some of the students that I’ve worked with, one is talking about how dance and law sort of come together in a creative way and like work off of each other. And those are both of her passions, another student that, well, one of my friends from high school, uh, that I was helping with, uh, she was writing about how, like her attention to details and.
Liking the lines and how anime characters are drawn related to her attention to detail. So that was interesting. um, really like, I really like how Gareth said, it’s really about how you think, like they’re trying to get an idea of how you think, who your personality is. Think about like how you would argue is water wet, like that doesn’t need to be your essay topic, but the way you would argue that statement is showing a side of your personality or, um, different debates.
I always go off of the negative kind of, but ran debates, um, something you get fired up about. Those are things that really show off your personality and your perspective on the world. Um, kind of going off of that. Um, how can students who do, do not feel as comfortable writing about themselves, brainstorm, brainstorm topics to write about themselves and the webinar is coming to a close.
So if you wanna give any last minute advice with that, Sure. Yes. Um, yeah, I’ve sort of gone through one or two, um, ways to doing that, that sort of self-reflection, um, sort of thinking about yourself, um, in a variety of different ways, thinking about your interests and your activities. Um, one other way to, um, is to start drafting for some of those prompts, just sort of take, look at the prompts, um, sit down, set the timer for say 20 minutes, um, and just start writing for the first prompt next day, do the same thing for the next prompt next day.
The same thing for the third prompt chances are that some things will spring to mind, you’ll have some ideas, um, sort of rushing around, um, and then sort of trust your gut on that, um, and, and go with, uh, which ones feel most natural, which ones feel easiest to write. Um, those can often turn into a really logical and straightforward topic for you.
So again, if you’re sort of worried about staring at that blank page and you’re really uncertain where to start, um, self-reflection and just drafting really sort of forcing yourself to sit down and, and write as much as you can, free writing that this prompt can be really helpful. I also do talk about that in my brainstorming masterclass.
You’re welcome to watch as well. . Yeah. So that is the end of the webinar portion of, oh, that is the end of the webinar. I hope you found this information helpful. And remember again, that you can download the side from the link in the handouts tab and this webinar is being recorded. If you would like to view it again on our website app.CollegeAdvisor.com/webinars.
Thank you for our wonderful panel, Gareth for all this great information about the personal statement. Also make sure to check out those links that are in the public chat, you will have to copy and paste them. Um, and, uh, in order to find more information about, um, personal statements and our other webinars related to that, here’s the rest of our September series, where we’ll go over different aspects of the application process, as well as have different college panels for those who are researching schools right now.
And you can also just check out, um, our wide variety of essay, topics, and blog topics on different things that you may be interested in or curious about or concerned about, um, to find out more information. So thank you everyone for coming out tonight and goodnight.