The 10 Biggest Mistakes To Avoid On Your College Essay

Recorded Wednesday, September 2, 2020 at 12:00 AM

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About this livestream


Learn about the top 10 most common college essay mistakes and how to spot and fix them.

Jordan Sanchez, current sophomore at Harvard University, will walk through the most common college essay mistakes she has encountered while editing her own and others’ work. She will also provide essay examples and several exercises you can use to review and adjust your own work before, during, and after writing your college essay.

Throughout the presentation, she will be open to answering questions about the topics she covered most recently and her own essay writing process.

Video Transcript


Okay, Hey, everyone. So I just made a big mistake.

I just realized I was live.

And I wasn't actually live. How embarrassing is that? You know what, it's fine. It's whatever.

So hey, people, it's eight o'clock on the dot, I guess that's life, you know it. But today we're gonna be talking about the top 10 most common college essay mistakes. And I will basically be doing this live over again, because I was live for a little bit, actually, like 20 minutes. Okay, let's get started and do that all over again. So, Hey, everyone, I'm Jordan. I'm a sophomore at Harvard, concentrating in physics, with secondaries in computer science, and education. I'm so excited to be talking to you guys. Today, I have been seriously editing essays, since I would say May or June of this year. So I have read a lot of them. I've left a lot of feedback. And I'm just really excited to share with you guys some common essay mistakes. So you guys don't make them in your essay.

I just can't believe I was streaming for 20 minutes, but I wasn't actually on air. I'm like, still not over that. Yeah. So we're going to get into it. Um, yeah, let's go.

So today, we're going to cover a whole bunch of different mistakes, essays can be or not the essays and mistakes can be sorted into three different categories. So once you make before writing, so planning, essay topics, doing research, while writing, so structure, writing strategies, drafts, and then after writing, so editing, revising, and submitting, and just so you guys know, I will be doing Q and A's actually, throughout this livestream instead of just at the end. So right after the before writing, and right before the wall writing Part, we'll have a q&a. And then we'll have one right after it while writing and we'll have another one after after writing. So you can leave your questions. Oh, hey, people, I'm like, my phone is right. And I see the chat. So Hey, everyone. So excited for you guys to join me. Leave your questions throughout the presentation, and I will answer them at those specific parts. So the first thing before we get anywhere, any further into this presentation, we need to discuss the purpose of the essay and why it actually matters. So the admissions profile is made up of a few things. First is your academics, your GPA, class rank, course bigger, things like that. The next thing is your extracurricular, so activities, household responsibilities, things like that. Then you have exams, so s AP, ACT, APs,IBs, and Subject Tests. And then you have essays, so personal statement supplements. And I just want to reaffirm or validate any kind of worries you have about the exams. I know that College Board has been canceling a lot of their SAT, ACT, APs and things like that. But do not worry, it's not the end of the world. A lot of schools are going tests optional this year, which is really good for you guys. But because the schools are going Test Options, and you're basically losing this entire exam section, your essay will mean a lot more. So just keep that in mind. You want to make sure you're doing the most with your essays that it's going to be really really solid. I'm sorry, I'm laughing. I just can't believe I went live for so long. Okay, anyway, purpose of the common FSA, there are like some key things that the common app essay should do. And it gets a little bit more details about its role in the admissions process. I see some questions. Because they're related. So I'll answer them now. Do you recommend taking this subject test? or Why do you recommend taking the subject test because I was planning just take the sap specially do condition. If you are applying this year, if you are a rising senior, don't worry about Subject Tests at all. Like you don't have to worry about them because they're just irrelevant. Now focus on the SEC AC t. So yeah, but if you are a rising Junior, say the Subject Tests in this, what like june of your junior year, I think is like the general like standard. Next thing, what kind of household responsibilities would be valid enough to put on a profile.

So if you are caring for like a sick, sick, older or younger family member and it takes up a significant portion of your time, they go ahead? If you have a pet and you have to like walk the dog? Probably not. Maybe you have that in your family's business. Yeah, so anything that takes a significant portion of your time you want to put on there.

So the essays are the only time admissions officers get to hear from you directly. Do you want to make sure you're making the most of this opportunity? So whether your essays are awesome. required, you should always complete them to your best ability unless it's like an additional information section or disciplinary history section. If you don't have any disciplinary history, don't write anything for that essay. Like, there's no point. But if your family is affected by COVID, or if you seriously struggled with something in your high school career, definitely put in the additional information section. But aside from that your essays like common app and supplements are worth 25 to 30% of your admissions profile under COVID. So as you can see, that is a lot. So in general, the common app essay should give the admissions officer a clear sense of who you are, this is the only chance to showcase your personality and how it fits with the campus culture. Because again, it's the only time they get to hear from you directly. Without this essay, the whole application would be about you with nothing actually from you, which kind of like sucks. So you also want to show how you've grown or remain especially consistent, or any major lessons you've learned and how you implement them throughout your life. Usually, students do this by focusing on a specific moment and how it affected them. And we'll talk a little bit more about essay structures later on. You want to make sure you're being really specific about yourself in your experiences. And always ask yourself the question, Could anyone else write this essay and we'll talk a little bit more about generating unique essay ideas later on. And as always, you want to complete the picture you paint with the rest of your application, because this is a pretty hefty part, and it kind of like seals the deal. So a quick recap, the personal statement essay, which is same thing as common app essay matters, because one, it's your voice, the admissions officers really get to hear from you for the first and only time ever, to individuality, it really helps you stand out because it's your specific story. And no one can take that from you. Three college fit, like that's what essays are usually about just how well you fit into a college campus. And then for holistic admissions, so your essays can make up for weaker part of your application. And this was true of me, like my grades, like my, my classes are really hard with my grades like weren't, like, I didn't have a 99 or anything like that. And I truly think that my strong essays really, like helped me stand out and like really sealed the deal for my application, especially at Harvard.

Um, someone's asking, do you recommend submitting the same essay to multiple schools, and I actually have a slide up about this, it's kind of towards the end. So if you hang tight, I do want to answer that question just really thoroughly. So hang tight till the end. So before writing, here are some SEO mistakes that you can make. And if you have any questions about this before writing section, drop them in the chat as I go through them. So like you won't be kind of like rushed and stuff like that. And I want to make sure I get to your questions. So the first mistake most obvious is writing about the wrong thing. So regardless of what you write about, you want to make sure your topic is unique, engaging and authentic to you.

Um, someone's asking, you just mentioned a personal statement. Does that mean the common application essay tips also work for personal statements? Since you're all applying to undergrad? Yeah, personal statement CommonApp are pretty much the same thing. When you're applying to like grad school or another program, it may be like personal statement is like what do you want to do at the school, but since you're applying to a four year bachelor's program, like personal statement and comment from same thing, Okay, back to the slide. So you don't want to write a four sob story, a lot of students think you have to write a sob story to get in. None of my essays were sob stories, because that's just not the kind of person I am.

And I got it. So it's completely fine. Don't worry about it. There are a whole bunch of essays that worked successful essays that are positive, so don't be afraid to use that to your advantage. The next thing is someone else's story.

A lot of students will talk about struggles their family member had, or some crazy experience their parents went through, which is great if it actually affected you and how you've grown up. And if it's led to some like significant change in your life. You don't want to write someone else's story in your essay, because we don't actually get to learn about you. The whole point of the essay is sort of AOs to learn (AO is short for admissions officer by the way,) like they want to learn who you are. And if you would belong on this campus, not about your mom or your grandma or your dad or anything like that.

Next thing, like some students just choose not to show growth. And I think it's important to show growth, even if your essay is not about a specific like, I experienced this and it changed my life forever. Like it's totally okay if your essay is not that, but you do want to make sure that you are growing as a person in your essay. Because think like a story. This essay is basically a story and you want to have a plot and you want to show character development, stuff like that without the essay just seems really flat. The next and most common mistake is that you choose and it says I can't hear you. Well, you keep going in and out. Okay, let me see if I could like, do something with my audio. I don't really know, to do much. But hopefully, hopefully the recording will capture this because I don't want you guys to not hear me good. Can you guys hear me good? Oh my god, I can't believe I did Nicki Minaj reference. I'm sorry about that. So the next last mistake is writing an essay topic that is way too common. So some essay topics are overdone, literally every single year. So I don't want to it's not impossible to get into a school with a common essay topic.

Yeah, y'all are laughing. Oops. Okay, anyway, it's not impossible to get into a school with a common essay topic. It just makes it a lot harder to stand out. And you want to stand out like that's your goal in the college admissions process. I'm going to talk a little louder. Hopefully my roommates won't hate me. So obviously, like the next natural slide is the most common essay topics. So basically admissions officers, as I said, they may read like up to thousands of essays in a given application season. So writing about a common topic might hurt you and may keep you from standing out. So it said a child anyway. So yeah, period, I'm sorry. So you're the most common essay topics, you have sports and sports related injuries, like, try not to do that everyone who plays a sport writes about sports, please do something else. I promise there is more to you than like a basketball, I promise. The next thing is death of a loved one. I'm like, we love your grandma, grandpa, like gender nonconforming grandparent. But we need to make sure that this essay is about you that we're learning about you and your strengths and who you are. Okay, the next thing is divorce or an absent parent. So, especially with absent parents, I feel like a lot of students with absent parents lose a parent early on in their childhood, like, obviously, which will affect your life, like going forward. But you want to make sure that essay is taking place more recently, and I'll talk a little bit more about like, the timing of the events in your essay later on. And then moving with immigration, I will talk a little bit more about that, like, I'll circle back to it. And then COVID-19, because like, we're all living through a pandemic, no one really wants to read about it. But if you really have a transformational story, if something really happened to you, like during quarantine, that wasn't just like, Oh, I was sad, and I lost all my friends, like definitely talk about it in the additional information section, there is an entire section where you could just write about COVID-19. So if you have a story to tell, tell it there, don't use your common app essay for it. Now, as I said earlier, it's not impossible to read a successful essay about one of these topics, but it does make it harder to stand out. And I personally wouldn't take the risk going back to moving and immigration. So obviously, or maybe not. So obviously, a lot of college applicants are most of them are like citizens or not immigrants like they're born in the United States. So it's not, it's not that this essay topic is like super common among the entire applicant pool. But it is very common for either international or immigrant students, just because usually they rehash the same themes. And it's not bad, like immigration immigrating as a child is a huge thing. But you want to make sure you don't just talk about that you want to talk about something else that makes you more unique. And that feeds into my next slide about generating unique essay ideas. So the best way to create a real unique essay. Oh, thanks for saying you can hear me good. Make sure Kenny has Yeah, I'm not going to make that reference. Again, come your questions, by the way, because I think we're getting somewhat close to the end of this section, you want to make sure you are making an intersection. Basically, what this means is talking about two aspects of your identity, and how they affect each other. Because you don't exist in isolation. It's not like I'm on the cheer team one day, and then I like do something else. The next like, it's the same person doing all of those things. And they are bound to affect each other, especially in a country as like diverse as United States. So you can pick a hobby, maybe your race and culture, community life events, etc. and talk about how they intersect and affect each other and doing this will decrease the likelihood of someone else having the exact same essay topic as you.

So for example, someone saying like "I want to write about sports," it's like okay, sports are common, give me something more. So here's an example: as a girl playing male dominated sports conflicted with the values of my culture.

So a lot of girls playing like basketball. I don't even know basketball football, like other male dominated sports may write an essay about being a girl in a male dominated sport. However, when you add in the aspect of Your culture and how it like conflicts with the values are something that will make it a whole lot more unique because you're talking about the specific things that are unique to you, your life and your experience. For example, my essay was about my experience as a black student at a predominantly like white and Asian High School. And how that affected what I did was my title of Miss New York. And as you can see this, like talks about my race community, and my hobbies all into one thing. So it really like prevents anyone from writing the same essay, even though students may have similar essays, like maybe they like compete in pageants, or maybe they went to a predominantly white or Asian High School, like I talked about how I started a blog, and like, no one, I'm pretty certain not many people started a blog as a result of these experiences, do you want to make sure you're being very, very unique and specific. So to force yourself to come up with these things, like aside from just listing all the things that you do, and like drawing connections, is by forcing yourself to come up with 30 essay ideas. So you're gonna in one sitting, you're going to list 10, you're going to take like a one minute break, you're going to list 10 more, and then 10 more. And by doing this, you force yourself to get past a really like surface level. Things you actually want to get to like, what the meat and potatoes really unique sad is that no one else can write. And once you come up with an essay, like topic that you think you're going to do, ask yourself, if anyone else could write the essay? And if so, try to modify the topic a little bit. So the next this is actually Oh, you're missing the work Nice. Yeah, I was I was I actually, I think I'm going to be missing work. Again, we're still waiting on the results. But yeah, so this is like the biggest, biggest, biggest feedback if you haven't, edit your essay, and we'll probably say it's unfocused. So 650 words is not a lot. So you want to make sure your essay is focused, and that you're able to be specific about everything you cover. unfocus essays try to talk about way too many things. And this really, like messes up the central idea, and no one actually knows that it is. So once you come up with their general essay topic, say you want to talk about sports, because you haven't like come up with something really specific.

You want to make a list of all the possible ways your essay could go. And then you want to choose the one that's most relevant to you, and stick to it. So here's my example, about sports, because sports is common.

So sports can teach you like determination, and like develop your drive to win. But it also could affect your relationship with your parents, maybe you learned a lot of things from sports, maybe you learn how to balance sports and other commitments. And maybe sports helped you overcome stage fright. So as you can see, all of these topics, although they are under the umbrella category of sports, are very, very different and could result in completely different essays. So you want to make sure you do this with your essay topic, really sit down and take the time to go through all of it. And then pick one because that will force you to be super specific. And we learn more about you, which is good. And you want to make sure like just so you know, if you're writing an essay about sports and any of these elements, you don't pick one of these, like do this, do this exercise for yourself and pick your own. Okay, because it's your essay, you want it to be unique and all about you. The next mistake is not planning enough, and I see some questions coming in. And I will answer that at the end of the section. But the next thing is just not planning enough. So to write an effective essay, you will need to plan a few things out beforehand.

Because unplanned essays may seem really rushed, disorganized and unfocused, as we said before, which isn't good. So before you write your first draft, you want to make sure you're asking yourself these questions and answering them with like solid in depth answers. So the first How will the essay start and ends? If you don't know how it's gonna end? Well, if you don't ask him to start, you can't start and if you don't know how it's gonna end, you're just going to be writing aimlessly, which isn't good. The next thing what do I want the admissions officers to know about me? Like, do you want them to know that you're resilient, that you're a doer that you're an achiever that you never give up? Most of those are like synonyms. But that's okay. Like, you want to make sure you know what you're trying to convey about yourself. The next what is the central idea of this essay without a central idea that you're just gonna be writing aimlessly, it's gonna be really unfocused. And then Am I answering the prompt? For CommonApp essays, I say don't write to the prompt, because the last prompt is right, whatever you want. But for supplements, you want to make sure you are answering the prompt. And specifically, if you're writing a why this school or why this major supplement, you want to you want to make sure you're doing a lot of research about the school ahead of time. So what is the culture on campus? What specific programs that? Would I be interested in? What makes a school different from the others? And what kinds of qualities are the admissions officers looking for? How can I reflect those qualities in my essays? So for all of these questions, you're gonna I have answers to them. You may not explicitly include these answers in the essay, you may not include all of them, but they're just going to be more apparent. And they're going to make sure you're on the right track when you are writing. So here is a simple like essay Planning Guide, if you're on your phone or computer, whatever, screenshot this because it's a nice like quick outline. So before you write, you want to make sure you know what the goals of the essay are, what you want to share, and what themes you're going to be focused on. So you won't have like a crazy mess. The first thing you want to do is start out with a story or a moment, this could be a challenge or time when you learn something about yourself, someone else or the world, it doesn't really have to be like a moment where you learn something, but it should be an important or impactful moment. And I'll give you an example of an essay that doesn't have that that's not about them learning, just you can see like what a first story or hook could look like, then you obviously want to have a transition about how the two stories are related.

And then you want to talk about the second story or moments. And in the transition, it could be like context or something, it could just be any information that would help the admissions officer really understand the story to the fullest extent. But then you want to go on to your second story or moment. So the time when you display this knowledge or quality, and applied it to your life, this will really help you like this second moment shows the admissions officers how you actually change, like saying you change this one thing, showing them is completely different, like a completely different thing. And we're going to talk more about showing and telling and things like that later on. And then you want to end with a wrap up. So how does that experience affect who you are today, and who you will be in the future. I'll talk more about how this differs from a traditional conclusion, and a five paragraph essay structure a little bit later. But make sure you are leaving your questions because now I'm going to hop into the chat and see what's going on.

Okay, so someone's asking, Can I or us was asking, Can I talk about two different cultures and how it's been hard because not only are my parents different generation, but they grew up in a different culture. This is not necessarily related to immigration. But I was wondering if this is a good idea is okay, if you say it's not, I'm really looking for honest feedback, I will always give honest feedback.

So, the first thing I'm going to be honest with you, I literally I was writing or not writing, I was reading an essay this morning about a student who has an American parent and a Finnish parent. And if that doesn't give you an idea of how common an essay topic about like two cultures merging is, and I don't know what well, it's not that it's a bad topic, it's just that it's a little common. So instead of if you really, really, really want to talk about your cultures and how like these intersect and affect you and like make you who you are, make sure that you add another thing, like maybe this, I'm completely making this up. But maybe you like your parents are two different cultures. And like they're kind of parenting you in two different ways. And you're at school, and you don't know which Culture Club to join. So you join a student government and you create a like all cultures day or United Nations day where everyone can like just sharing the love and not be so divided. Like that is an instance where I would say it's okay, because there is like the action part, the part that makes it really specific to you. If you don't have something that's super specific like that, then I am not sure I don't think I would encourage you to write about that. The next thing are a gap years cliche, gap years are cliche if you talk about how you went to Africa to volunteer for the children and build schools like one that's modern day colonialism. And two, you don't want to just come off as like, I'm a savior, I'm doing all this good. So you should reward me. Like, you want to make sure if you're talking about a gap year, that it's not just like "I went to these poor, unfortunate people and help them," you know

How many schools Did you apply to? And when did you start working on your college apps? I applied to 17 schools, three targets, like 10 reaches and then I guess four, I mean, three safeties so forth targets. And then I started on my essay in the summer, but I didn't write the draft that I submitted until I didn't finish it until mid October. I started it like about now early September. And then I roll all of my supplements from November 1 November 1 to December 31, I guess. And yeah, like because I applied to so many reaches, most of my schools did require supplements.

There's a lot of writing, but please start sooner rather than later.

Okay, let us see. What about my weight loss journey and how people treated me so differently. I think that could be an interesting essay, but you want to make sure it's not just that Like I wouldn't say do an intersection, or, um, or talk about like, maybe it was like your relationship with your parents as well. Maybe this inspired you to do something or go into a specific field. Like I would say, make sure you add an other thing. So it's not just that one topic. Is it a good idea to write my personal essay about an experience I had in a cult culture, volunteer organization, organized the event, and this organization will be on my activities list? But does it sound too cliche for an essay topic? Hmm. It depends on the experience, like on the actual like, what you actually did?

I think it could, it could be good. If the essay is not just I plan this and look at it do good. Like, what what can I learn about you from this essay? Besides like, the fact that you can, like put on, like an organization or event? You know, like, were there a lot of conflicts? Did you like really struggle to get it together? Like I'm, I would say, That's more of an interesting story than just like, oh, look at this thing I put together isn't it nice. Um, but also, I want you to kind of think, bigger picture. So a lot of students or not a lot of students, a lot of like highly selective and competitive schools have you write a supplement about an extracurricular so if this extracurricular takes up all of your time, just make sure you check the essay prompts of the schools that you're applying to, because that may be a good essay, like I would say, that is a good essay topic for a like, tell me about your extracurricular supplement, which is like, somewhat common. Okay, I feel like writing about how playing board games with my great grandmother first reinforced my strong drive to succeed. It's really common topic, but in supporting memory for me, I think, I think it's not that not that common, like, I've heard it something like that once or twice. But it's not like the most common thing ever. So if you want to write about it, go ahead. But I would say add another thing to it, like, so the first. So you know how I said, there are two moments, the first moment can be like, Okay, I'm doing board games, and I need to succeed. The second moment should be a time when you implement to that, if you can come up with a very specific time, say like, I don't know, wait, actually, I'm like trying to recall an example because another student was talking about how their grandmother taught them something like to stay calm during conflict. And then the second half of their essay was about how they got into a car crash, or a car accident, not like a huge one, but a minor car accident, and how like, their grandma's advice to stay calm, like was implemented there. So it come up with another moment that you would include in that essay. So it's not just about you and your grandma. Okay, moving is cliche, however, can you discuss if you moved alone for a better application and the culture shock, I think writing an essay about moving alone, like so now you're living alone is a very unique experience. Um, but a lot of like, obviously, I don't want to like generalize people, it's kind of like what I'm doing. I'm sorry. But like, I would just say, like, culture shock is just a very like common theme, especially with people who are moving or immigrating and stuff like that. So just be really careful. I'm talking about my goal, and always helping others and tie it back to my major. Make sure you include how you got that goal. And it's not just like, I want to help people talk about a time when you actually help people, you know, and not and more than just like I volunteered at a soup kitchen, you know, because you want to show like, this is actually something I'm really interested in. Okay, not writing related. A college advisor at my school says that colleges are wanting applications due by October 15. Would you agree? No, I would not agree. Obviously, like it's good to submit sooner rather than later. And they're probably talking about either early action, which is like November 1.

But I I have not. So I didn't submit any of my regular decision applications before December. So I think it's completely fine. I would say don't wait for the last day. If you can submit like a week in advance. Like that's pretty solid. Should I always mention my major in my essay, as well as this one applying to no and no, I didn't talk about my major in any of my essays. And you should only mention this specific school. If it's like, why do you want to do this major? Why do you want to go to this school? Or if you're setting it up, so that you're writing a nonfiction type thing, and it's a perfect fourth wall break, which is like very hard to execute, but I'll talk more about fourthwall breaks later. If I have original and interesting answers to prompts you think that'd be better than writing my own essay? What do you mean by that? I'm not sure what you mean. If you mean like, you're if you mean you have like good answers to like prompts one through six, which are actual questions, go ahead and write that like as long as it's like unique and whatever. Like, that's fine. You don't have to do this. Haven't prom. Like really the prompt to choose for common app really doesn't matter. Add an idea of writing my four years of high school as seasons, is it smart to talk about three years back or only talk about recent events? I think we've talked about three years back, as long as the majority of the essay talks about who you are now, because remember, they are accepting you now, not who you were, like, five, six years ago. But But what about being a black cheerleader in a predominately white sport? Um, I, I have, okay, again, to give you like an idea of how common it is, I've had about like three black students in my DMS saying they wanted to write about being black in a predominately white sports like golf, figure skating. So it's not the most unique thing ever. But if you can, like add something else to it, so it's not just like, and this is like a pitfall that I almost like, tripped and fell into when I was writing an essay about like, being a black student. Like you don't want the essay to just be, I am black, and I am alone. Like, obviously, that really sucks. But you like we need more, we need more. What did you do? Did you bring more like black and Hispanic cheer girl like, girls to the cheer team or something like that, like, give us an action that you specifically did? Okay, let's see, how do you these are the last two I will answer for now. And then I'll like talk about more later. How do you suggest I approach writing about a mindset or belief I developed from my childhood that I still use today, because it's not a story or specific pivotal moment. And so two things, the first thing you want to do is like start with a moment in your childhood when, like you learned or your mom or dad or non like your parents, like, taught it to you or doesn't have to be taught but just like implemented it. So for example, like my dad never wanted me to lie. I can't remember when he taught me that lying was bad. But I do remember a time when I was a kid crying because I lied and I thought I was gonna get arrested. Like that could be a specific moment. And then the second moment would be a time when you implemented it and use it for something like either it could be big or small, but you want to make sure you tie it into time when you've used it because I'm sure if it's guided your whole life, you can like find a time to use it. Okay, I was in a wheelchair with a rare spine problem and after two surgeries I stuck was bad. And not only am I walking Wow. But I'm a bandleader. Wow. Good for you. We've been leader at school marching band, we had the Grand National Champions. Is that a good topic? Yeah, period. I think it's great. I think it's very unique. Oh my god. What about right is writing about what I'm passionate about a good essay topic if you talk about how you came to that passion and what you're doing with it now, but an essay about how facing colorism for pants would maybe help other people who face the same problem. So you go into a field where you underrepresented to comment. Um, it's, it's not too common. The theme is a little common, but just make sure you add like specific, like moments and stuff. Oh my gosh, I'm this gonna be a long line. I'm so sorry. What are tips you have to get to a deeper self realization that you can convey your essay or story topic. I feel like my metaphors aren't deep enough. Don't use a metaphor. If you feel like you can't come up with a good one. Don't use it. I don't use metaphors. I do a lot of black students write about or their struggle with their hair. Yes, I've had like four students talking about that. I want I went to an extremely competitive and toxic high school I tried really hard to stay true to myself and because obviously bad no wouldn't be bad. Just make sure you include specific moments that highlight the difference between you and the general culture of your school. Next slide. So mistakes while drafting I'm wearing a one direction shirt. Okay, the same style drafting. So number four out of 10 is writing a bad hook. So the hook is the first paragraph of your essay and its job is to engage the reader and introduce yourself and the topic of your essay. A good hook is memorable and gets the attention of the admissions officer and get some really excited read your essay like remember I'm the admissions officers are just people they want to enjoy themselves they like they're reading all these essays, you should just be the like burst of sunshine and they must be so happy to read your essay.


So next thing just some examples of engaging and disengaging hooks so engaging hooks be dialogue imagery, other descriptive language bold statement, interesting and relevant information. And then disengaging hooks, unrelated quotes if you're going to start close, like I don't know, a dream is a wish your heart makes or never give up. Don't do that unjustified complaints because no one wants to wants to complain or whiner, and then just some word of advice. Don't worry about the first few lines when drafting it If you feel stuck, you could write the rest of the essay and then just come back to edit the hook later. But I would say make sure you edit the hook or come up with some ideas for the hook before you like send your essay to anything else, or anyone else.

Um, and by the way, there will be a live stream on September 4, which is this Friday at 7pm ET. About how to write the Harvard University supplement. So if you guys want to join me up in Cambridge, definitely check that out. I would love to see some of your familiar faces. I mean, I don't see your faces now. But I would love to see some of you guys up in Harvard land. I think that'd be really cute.

Okay, so next mistake, if you give me your essay to edit, I will, you will probably mess this up. And that's okay. Um, it's telling and not showing. So this may manifest as reading exactly how you talk what you should not do. When you tell a story to a friend, you probably skip over a lot of the details and just report bigger events. In this essay, you have the 650 words to slow down. Always use descriptive language not always use descriptive language when talking about the specific moments, you want to share details about the setting your feelings, thought processes and experiences. And this will just make for a more engaging and unique essay.

Okay, someone said please post on Tick Tock. As a reminder, I am not posting this live, or slides. I don't think maybe I'll post the slides. I'm not sure. But this recording will be available on But thank you for the reminder. Thank you guys. Okay, um, how someone and just for like telling not showing just general advice and why you should show and not tell is that, like how someone reacts to the situation is much more telling about their character than them saying, I have this trait.

Like, I am much more likely to believe that you are a leader, if you like, give me an example of you displaying leadership, if you resolve some conflict or something like that, if you motivated people, then just you saying I'm a leader, you know.

And just like a quick exercise, write your essay as if you're writing a novel and you're the main character, like during quarantine. And though there is this Tick Tock trend, we're all trying to figure out who's the main character, and I'm here to tell them that you are the main character, at least in this essay. So going, the first one I wrote by myself and the second one was actually one of the students whose essays I edited and his second draft was just so much better. Gabriel, if you're watching this, I'm so proud of you. Okay, so here is a not great example, I have loved cooking ever since I was little, I grew up watching my mother cook the food of my culture, and I want to do the same. I'm a perfectionist. So sometimes, oops, is that someone's oops, sometimes, I spent five hours trying to make the perfect flatbread. Ooh, it says you glitched out for me. Hopefully I'm not I'm not glitched out on my phone. I'm watching this live on my phone, by the way, but I think, I don't know.


So from this hook, like, obviously, you see that the topic is about like cooking. So you introduce the topic and yourself, you're a perfectionist. It's like, okay, but it's really distant, like the reader feels disconnected from the events of the essay. And it's doing a lot of telling and not showing. There are other ways to communicate your passion for cooking without explicitly saying it. And a great example of this is the essay or like clip on the right and this is like literally his words I did not like do any of this. He's so smart and talented.


315 grams of flour, two spoons of yeast, a little bit of sugar and salt. And my secret ingredient, whole milk, Greek yogurt, the combination forms of rough Shaggy, flat bread dough, which will be rolled into eight inch rounds and sat on the stove with the dress of extra virgin olive oil. So as you can see, with the essay is about cooking, and we see that the student is like very precise, because they're giving us some measurements. And they must be passionate about cooking if they have like a secret ingredient.

So as you can see this, like this hook is closely engaged, the reader is right bear with the narrator they're doing a lot of showing and not telling, like we know they're cooking without them saying it. And it's very unique, like very few students will actually include a recipe in their essay, you know.


So that's pretty good. Next thing incorrect essay length. And by the way, I think we're getting close to the end of this section, so start leaving your questions about the writing process.

So the limit for the common app essay is 650 words. And most successful essays are above 600 words, my essays were usually at the at the word limit of 650. So try as hard as you can to get to the word limit. 400 words is definitely too short. How do I contact you to review one of my essays if you do that? My email is happy Jordan s At, or Jordan, they are at the end of this presentation on the slide, by the way. So 400 words is definitely too short, I would say anything that is less than 600 words is too short, you want to make sure using all the words you can. And if it's too short thing like, is your topic too specific and that you've ran out of things to say, Are you telling instead of showing or using enough descriptive language? Are you including specific moments or glossing over details, like you want to make sure that you're not doing any of these things you know, you want to, there's a nice balance between specific and then to to specific. You want to be specific enough that no one else can write the essay. But you also don't want to be too specific or that you can only write 300 words word. And then any essay that is over 650 words is too long. Like literally the common application will not let you paste or type more than 650 words. Don't include the title when you are sending your essay by the way. So just check Are any of your sentences or paragraphs redundant? Are they like repetitive? Are there any moments when you can simplify your wording? Is your essay focused? Or are you trying to cover too many topics? Is this essay about you someone else? Or both? Do a paragraph by paragraph breakdown and ask like where are you using the most words? And like does that align with your goals of the essay? Remember, this all goes back to planning ahead. So questions while drafting so hooks and writing strategies, I will check this. I say or not my essay my emails happy to Jordan So for several minutes, is it okay to be more telling than showing due to the word limit?

Yes. Especially if the supplement is like 300 words, I think 300 words you can do like a little showing moment. And then like telling, but when it comes to supplements, like why this major or like why the school if they're really really short, like 200 words, 175 words, go ahead and tell like you don't want to waste words and stuff like that. But leave your questions. Keep leaving your questions. Like for my for my extracurricular supplement that was 175 words. I don't think I did any showing besides like little personality lines, like besides lighting behind my favorite superhero, like things like that. But I didn't do any showing Actually, I'm going to take a sip of water all you guys type.

But yeah, any questions, I will pop them or any questions pop up, I will ask or answer them. And the next thing, but let's push on through towards the last section. So mistakes made while editing and submitting. So number seven is in cohesive writing. And this is something that is kind of like in writing 101. This These aren't like as common as mistakes. Oh, I see some questions. How do you show being shy? introverted is a positive by giving by providing specific moments when your introversion or shyness has helped you. So for example, like I don't know if it's actually true for you, I'm just making this up off the top of my head, like introverts may like they're not going to speak as much. So they may be a lot more careful about what they say and how they say things. This may be really advantageous in a debate, maybe you're not going to be the most like vocal person in the debate. But you're definitely going to have something that's like most worthwhile sharing. Or maybe you are really good at having these emotional heart to heart, like hearts hearts with your friends, because you thrive in a like, closer like one on one setting rather than the group setting. So if you can provide a specific example, I think that would really help in personal essays, when writing the hooks, is it necessary to provide context? No, not initially, you want to make sure you're providing enough context for the reader to understand what's going on. But you don't have to, like burden us with all these details, you know. So, for example, I was reading an essay about a student, a teacher was pronouncing a student's name, like all they said was like they gave the line of dialogue. They said, My teacher said, My classmates looked at me with just those simple phrases, we understand that they're in a classroom and that the teacher is about to mispronounce their name. And that's like all the information we need, you know, so you don't have to give us like, every little detail just enough for us to understand the story. So in cohesive writing, cohesive essays are easier and more enjoyable to read, because it could be as when you're reading, like, you may notice this when you're reading a book or another essay, if an essay is kind of jumping around, and you don't really see how things are connected. Instead of focusing on the actual content, you're going to be thinking, How in the world does this actually connect? How is this relevant? Why do I care about this? And that obviously takes attention away from what actually matters, which is your content. So in cohesive writing mainly shows up in two ways. The first one is no transitions. So transitions show the reader how different ideas or paragraphs are related. And without them, your reader will wonder why switch subjects, rather than focusing on the content of essay. Transitions can be as short as like one or two sentences, or as long as a whole paragraph. So it really just depends on how well or obvious the connection is between these two ideas. The second thing is inconsistency. your essay should be the same point of view and tense throughout first person past tense is like the safest most common choice. There's nothing wrong with that. Your writing style should also be consistent. So don't use extremely complicated vocabulary in one paragraph, and then very simple language in the next, just write in your natural style and voice and you will never go wrong. Do you have any tips for the why of supplements? Yes, research, research research, email professors. If you're like that, courageous.

Well, that was a bad hiccup, email admissions officers asking them like, what is what what traits are you looking for in a student. But something I always did was like, and I do this for preparing for my interviews as well, like, say, for Harvard, because obviously, that's when this was clear to me. Like I would look for their student organizations. And I would find the ones I really, really liked. And then I would look at who like was advising that. So for example, I'm a figure skater, I used to be a figure skater and I wants to figure skating club. And it turns out that both of the coaches was a figure skating team, or club team, whatever. were former team USA ice skaters, which is like a very, very high honor. And I could talk

about that in my interview. And that shows like, I'm really interested, like all this, all the great people at Harvard, but don't just focus on individuals, because individuals can come and go. So talk about classes, talk about specific programs that you'd be interested in. So just do a lot of research. And don't include anything that you can find on the brochure. So obviously, students may have the question, How do I know if my writing is in cohesive? So here's a quick exercise, not really quick, but here's the exercise you can do. Once you finish your first or second draft, go paragraph by paragraph and answer these questions in the margins. This is something that I actually do with the essays that I edit. So how does this relate to the previous paragraph? Do I illustrate the connection here? Or later in the essay? If it's later in the essay, that's okay. But just make sure your readers and going too long without knowing like, What's going up? What is the main idea of this paragraph? Does it align with the central theme of his essay? What point of view? Is this written? And what tense? What form? Is this paragraph are in it? Is it narrative or creative? is a distant or close and engaging? Is it informative or persuasive? Like just make sure it's somewhat consistent throughout? does this relate to the next paragraph? And are the ideas or themes in this paragraph mentioned somewhere else? That's probably the most important one. Just so you know, answers should be the same or very, very similar in each paragraph. Do you prefer simplicity or bigger vocabulary that I would not normally use in my everyday life? use simple words, don't use words that you would not use in your everyday life, because chances are, you will use them incorrectly. And ayoze can tell like if you're just forcing words in there, like they're not looking for. And I think this is this the next slide?

No, but I will talk about this a little bit more later. They're not looking for the most beautiful prose or most complicated language ever. They're just looking for a good story, you know? Are you willing to edit the common app essay for seniors? Yes, I do edit common app essays, email me at Happy Jordan Or Jordan sent Jordan dot My emails aren't the end of this presentation, which we're getting close to. So writing in the incorrect form. And I kind of mentioned this earlier with five paragraph essays and conclusions. So the common app essay is most similar to a narrative or memoir, which is a short personal story. And many students have little to no experience writing essays on this form. And that's completely okay. You're not alone. It's really just your teachers not giving you creative writing assignments, that's fine. But you should keep in mind that this is not a five paragraph essay, you will not have an introduction, nor will you have a conclusion in the traditional sense, sense. Your introduction will be the hook, whether that's like dialogue, descriptive language, imagery, whatever. And the conclusion will just be a nice short wrap up like literally a few sentences that may talk about where you're going in the future.

And remember, this is not a thought piece either, especially when it comes to the prompt that's like, oh, talk about like, an idea that you disagree with or a lesson you learn. Like, you shouldn't just be writing a speculative piece like you want to include specific moments of your life. This will ground the essay so it's not just feeling like up in the air and lofty and I'll also help the reader get to know you better.

So to help you get past this and make sure right In the correct form, before you write your first draft watch videos on YouTube, like literally Google like reading my common app essay.

To get an idea of how successful essays are written, I personally have a few of these essays on my YouTube channel. I think if you look like happy Jordan, or the Phoenix or Harvard, like, it'll come up.

But I read my essays, a whole bunch of students have read their essays, binge watch these, don't copy their essays don't copyright language, it's just for you to get an idea of how that essay should go. So then the next thing this kind of aligns with us this question about language, not sounding like yourself is a big, big issue. So the admissions officer is not expecting, nor do they want to read the most beautiful prose and most intelligent language, they want to read an essay by you and about you. So always write your essay. Like that should even be a question. So write the essay yourself and don't include words you don't use regularly, you may miss use a word, if you use the source, I have done that, too. You don't need big fancy words to impress the admissions officers, your character and your story will impress them for you. And along the same route of your essay should center a brown around who you are today. Like it's okay to write about something that happened in elementary middle school. But the bulk of the essay should should have happened between 10th and 12th grade ideally, like if you're talking about an event that happened in middle or elementary school, that can be your hook. That could be a really short moment, maybe you could talk about my parents have always done this growing up. But you don't want to make that the whole essay. Because the admissions team wants to accept who you are. Now, today, you're going on campus next fall, they don't want to know who you were like eight years ago, unless it's like relevant to who you are today. And then the last one, I actually have a little bonus, so don't hop off too fast. But what the 10th mistake I have is reusing the wrong essays.

So throughout the application process, you will write like several essays, you'll have personal statement supplements, and some but not all of these can be used. When I was applying, I applied to 17 schools by the way, like I wrote 10,000 words worth of supplements, which is a lot, but some of those are use. So admissions officers can tell when you're using an essay you shouldn't do like you should ever use. It shows carelessness lack of interest in the school and admissions officers want to accept students who are likely to attend, they want to accept students who want to go. So before writing any other supplements, copy and paste all the prompts you have to write in a single Google Doc. And then take inventory of how many essays you'll actually have to write and how many you can reuse. Well, Jordan, which essays Can I reuse? Well, I'm glad you asked. Because here's a slide explaining which ones you can reuse. If I were you, I would screenshot this slide because it's just so nice, like quick resource. So your common app or personal statement, yes, always reuse this, unless this is unless your essay talks about why you're interested in your major. And the college you're applying to has a supplement asking about your academic interest, because you don't want to repeat yourself throughout the application.

So in this case, I would say use a modified version of your original CommonApp essay as a supplement, and then write a new, completely unrelated combat essay. For me, I just chose not to write about my major in any of my essays, unless they explicitly asked me, because it's just not cute. How will admissions officers know an essay is reused. So this kind of goes to like, why this school? So if so, like, let's think about the Ivy's like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton specifically, all of those are liberal arts colleges in like college towns, and they have like specific campus cultures that are like kind of somewhat similar. They don't have Greek life. Like those are all very basic similarities. If you're writing an essay that's like it, say this is some kids essay. I want to go to Harvard because they have amazing professors. I love the housing system. I think it really fosters community amongst the students. The grass is always green, the campus is beautiful, and it's not too far from home. There isn't Greek life, they have all these other opportunities. They have great undergraduate research programs, like an admissions officer will know that you're reusing that essay, because that's true of Harvard and Yale and Princeton and Dartmouth and like all these other places, and essay that you cannot reuse an essay that they know is unique is like, I want to go to Brown University because Jim gates teaches there, Jim gates teaches a course or does research on supersymmetry, I'm really interested in physics.

Brown also has a specific program called stars that supports underrepresented minorities going into STEM. So both of those one of those is true Brown, the other one isn't, but that was just like random example. Um, you see, I'm mentioning some civic professors, it'd be even better if I mentioned a specific course like, say, K through 12. Equity and excellence like that's, of course here at Harvard. Like if I'm mentioning a specific course, a professor and a program, like that's something that you cannot reuse, and the admissions officer knows that. So why the school like always be careful with that, why this major, you can use some parts of it, but you should also include information about the specific program each college offers to support students in that major, elaborate on an extracurricular Yeah, you can always read that one, unique aspects about your background and contributions to campus. You can use some some parts of it, but not all. Just make sure being specific about the programs you participate in on campus. Make sure you start to comment your questions, by the way, because we're getting towards the end, and then extremely open ended prompts, you can reuse the essay, but change the college's name if you mention it. Like my you, Chicago and Harvard essay were the same, so I had to like change you Chicago to Harvard. And then bonus, always proofread your work like the essays are super important. Super important part of your application, as we said is 25 to 30%. And they are the last thing you can control so you should treat them as such, you should proofread and have your English teacher proofread your essay for punctuation and grammar mistakes, spelling incorrect or incomplete sentences, run on sentences, switching tenses, etc.

Incorporating dialogue into your essay, you should always start a new paragraph every time there's a new speaker. Um, I've noticed I've been editing a lot of essays I know. So that's something not a lot of students know. And just not proofreading your work shows a lack of effort and care. So you want to start and finish your essays early to avoid feeling rushed. So Oscar was asking how do I submit supplemental essays and you can do this. Also amaze you pronounce my name. I actually have a friend at Barnard Her name is awsa. So that's how I pronounce it. But yeah, also is really cool. I love her. But you submit it through the common application, if they are a school on the common app. Or if you're applying through their specific portal, like the UCS have their own portal. They like they'll have a like box. It's like, pick a prompt or like, here's our prompt, and then they'll have a text box. Let us see what questions Is it important to have demonstrated interest in the essay? When it comes to a Why us? Yes, but I wouldn't say demonstrate it interest. Like I went to all of your info sessions.

And I'm going to switch to the next slide. So you can see my emails, like demonstrated interest isn't just like, oh, like I went to your info sessions, you can see demonstrated interest to all the research a student has done. What are the most unique college essays you have read about? Hmm. So the most unique ones. I think one of them was an essay, I was reading and reading essay as editing this summer. And as I student named dates or data, if you're watching this, I love your essay, it was about how their relationship with their grandmother strengthened over lottery tickets, which I thought was like really cute. Another one that I read and really liked was, oh my gosh, is actually my favorite one of all time. So a student actually talked about how they had a crush on someone. And how because they had this crush on this boy, they joined all the activities he was in like they joined the sports team like soccer. I think it was a joint student government because he was in student government. And he ran for student president. So she ran for student president too. And then eventually he dropped out because he was like, Oh, she's gonna be a really great student President, I support her. And I thought that was such an interesting essay. Because usually I would say don't talk about romance because you're a teenager who wants to read about teenage romance. But I just thought that was a very interesting and unique essay.

Another one that I really liked is how someone playing Legos with their little brother led to them wanting to be an engineer, which I thought was really cute. Um, I haven't read the Costco or pizza essay. Oh my gosh, one of my other favorites. And this the last year I haven't mentioned is, um, someone was applying. So for my high school's applying to you Chicago edu and they got in. And their essay was written in the style of Dr. Seuss. And they talked about how language is classes. And I just thought that was like, mind blowing. Like, obviously, it's not like the traditional like, here's my comment essay.

And this is a challenge I've overcome, but I thought it was a really unique essay. Okay, let's see what other questions we got. How important are stats like receiving receiving awards elected leadership, so stats like grades, that's like a third or less like 27.5 I think under COVID. But course rigor like means more than like GPA now. And then awards, I would say aren't that important because like, not every school has an NHS and not every school awards. Not every school distributes awards before senior year like I do, I had an award for my PSAT score, or si p one of those two and I was an NHS, but I didn't have any other words because my school gave awards at graduation, is it and then for leadership, I think it's important to have a leadership position that kind of goes in extracurriculars. extracurriculars is also like 25 to 27.5% of your profile. I think being involved like seriously involved is more important than leadership per se, but if you're seriously involved you probably have a leadership position.


Is it dumb to include one of the reasons you want to attend is because your dad did we have a legacy student? Um, maybe you could mention that as a quick thing.

Okay. actually talking about my friend asked them who goes to Barnard. So my essay Barnard's like, why do you want to come here? Why should we accept you?

And I basically went over this topic of like, awesome, I said, I was like a Barnard woman. And I didn't really know what that was. Now, I understand that Barnard women are strong, empowered, curious, like all these things.

If you wanted to spin it like that, I think jack was your name. Um, a friend named jack was also like a sea suit. But if you want to submit your essay like that, I think that's completely okay. But you can't just say, Oh, my dad was so I want to go because fantasy family legacy. Like, you want to make sure you're saying other things, revealing more information about yourself? Can I incorporate a short quote in Spanish and then explain what it means in English? Yes, you can. I thank you so much for taking the time to do this for us. Um, the problem with submitting a poem layout or unconventional essay be unique or wrong. So for that, I would say just be careful. It really depends on the character of the school and just campus culture. So if you're applying to you, Chicago or Stanford,

I would say submit a poem, like submit a poem. I think that would be great. I think that's a genius. If you're submitting because like those, Stanford is like, ooh, we're cool and quirky. And so as you Chicago so they want like, weird, quirky people, and they want students to take a risk. And that's a complete, like, great example of that. If you're applying to say like Cornell, like just regular Princeton regular, like not to say that you're going to get rejected, I don't think you will be. But I just think you just have to be careful. You know, I'm not a question. Just want to say your hair is, thank you. It's Krishna is writing that how I helped a church in Mexico or how I'm an overachiever, a good essay topic, as long as it's not like, "Oh, I went to Mexico to help the poor children. I am so good. Please, like give me a gold star" because that's never that's never good. You know? Which high school did you go to? In which state so I went to the Bronx High School of Science in New York City. It's a specialized High School. very engaging and informative. Thank you. Thank you. How do you know if there's a college search tool for IB or Dino's are cautious to for IB students, I saw that acceptances considered differently for IB students, I actually do not know. But, um, if you go on big I think it is.

You can like filter through like different things. And there may be like a filter for IB. And then like, if not just like look at the school's list of schools you're interested in and then do research for those specific ones. Like just to see but yeah, I'm sorry I didn't have a specific answer that but thank you guys so much for listening. It's nine o'clock my bedtime is 930 so I'm about to hop off. The recording for this will be uploaded within 24 hours of this ending. But yeah, thank you guys so much for joining me. I will see you guys follow me on whatever on Tick tock, I guess if you're here, like that's how you know me from but yeah, so nice talking to you guys.

And I will see you guys eventually later.

Your host

Undergrad College: Harvard '23

Major: Computer Science and Physics

Work Experience: I am a current student at Harvard University where I am pursuing my degree in physics and computer science.


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