How To Write The 2020-21 Common App Essay

Recorded Sunday, October 11, 2020 at 09:00 PM

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About this livestream


Learn how to write an awesome Common App essay for every single prompt.

Yesh Datar will provide an in-depth breakdown of each of the Common App essay prompts, discussing how to write a great essay in response to each one. He'll also share his take on the essays and topics you shouldn't write about for each prompt.

Video Transcript


Do a quick audio and visual check. See if you guys can see. And then also hear me, let me know in the q&a box. The q&a box looks like the box that says ask a question. Just feel free to type in there. Yes, we can see and hear you, and then I'll get started.


Perfect. Thanks, Amad. Thanks, Lilian. Awesome, Jennifer. Thanks for letting me know. And yeah, before we get started, I'll just introduce myself for those who are new here. My name is Yesh. I am a current medical student at Boston University. And I've been working with CollegeVine for the past three years now. So really excited to talk to you guys today. I definitely found a really good passion about helping students and families navigate the admissions process. Alright, thanks, Barbie. Emma. Nice to see you guys here. Thanks, Tom. All right, let's dive into it. So let's start sharing my screen. And again, if you guys can't see anything, or the audio cuts out, feel free to let me know. In the q&a box. I'll be checking intermittently throughout this presentation. All right. So I just shared my screen. Hopefully you guys can see that. And yeah, so basically cadence for today is I'll be going through the presentation, as is. And then at the end, I'll be doing kind of a QA review. So I'll jump back into the q&a box, see the questions you guys have answered, the more so at the end, however, I'll be checking the q&a box intermittently, to see if there are any kind of pressing questions of a certain slide or anything like that, and then we'll get to it. Awesome. So yeah, can't wait for your questions. Let's get into it.

So welcome to today's presentation on the guide to the CommonApp essay. So first, before we even talk about the prompts, or how to approach the essays, we really have to talk about methodology. Right. So talking about the common FSA, the common app is an application that's shared by 100 800 or more colleges across the US. And it's used by most of the top 50 colleges. So if you're applying through the common app, chances are you'll find the School of your interest in the common app. And so a lot of students end up applying through it anyway. Within the common app, application elements are shared across multiple schools. So that includes things like details relevant to your educational background, your personal background, but also the essays, right, so the essays are pretty vital. And that's what we're gonna be talking about today. And the common app provides a good place to see all the essays that you have to respond to, for each school that you're applying to. And so it becomes very important to complete these essays to the best of your abilities. Because these are one of the biggest things that will be shared to all the schools that you're applying to. The common app essay is what we'll be talking about today. It's also often referred to as personal statement, another two synonymous with each other. So if I say a personal statement, I'm technically talking about the common MSA, it's a common up I say in front of the personal statement, right, they're interchangeable. At most, the maximum word count with common up as a 650 words, our recommendation is try to use between 550 to 650 words, try to use the entire real estate available to you. Because you know, this is where you really want to share a really cohesive story about yourself. And that's what admissions officers are looking for. And it's supposed to be done than 550 to 650 words. And you have a selection of seven prompts that can be responded to. And I just want to clarify, you don't have to respond to all seven prompts, you just have to respond to one of them. So you choose one out of the seven that really piques your interest, and you respond to only one of those out of the seven. So without further ado, here are the prompts, the common app prompts and somebody who probably have started writing your college essay others you are probably about to start writing. So this is kind of good refresher on what prompts to expect, and which prompts you might have chosen from so prompt one is some students have a background identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful, they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story from the lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. recount a time when you faced a challenge setback or failure. How did it affect you? And what did you learn from the experience? Number three, reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? prop four, describe the problem you solved or problem you'd like to solve. It can be intellectual challenge or research query and ethical dilemma. Anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify solution. prompt five discuss an accomplishment event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth in a new industry. Have yourself or others. Six describe a topic idea or concept you find so engaging, and it makes you lose track of all time. Why does it captivate you? What, or who do you turn to when you want to learn more, and then finally prompts up. This is kind of a free for also free form kind of essay where you can share an essay on any topic of your choice. We want, you've already written one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.


Great. So again, most of the presentation, the first half, the presentation will be more about methodology of the CommonApp. So now we're going to start breaking down really why the CommonApp matters in the first place, we'll talk about ideas about how to write good essays, then we'll break down each essay prompt individually. So the common app essay matters a lot in admissions, because they're the main way that admissions officers get to know you as a person. Note that the rest of your application is mostly stats or facts on a page. So things like your GPA, your test scores, your extracurriculars can convey very quantitative measures of who you are as an applicant. But the essays and letters recommendation, for example, are very personal ways of telling the admissions committee who you are. So that's why it becomes very important. This is how you can share your message. A question that I anticipate getting that I often get in these kind of webinars is about because of COVID? How has it impacted the idea of GPA or test score? And how are essays and letters recommendations kind of seen now, right? So because of COVID, the weight of a GPA or test score has decreased. And why because students can't really study as effectively home, they not might not perform well on tests. And also a lot of students can't take standardized tests because of the environment they're in. Right. So the weight of GPA and standardized test scores have gone down. And in place that things like essays and letters of recommendation have actually increased in weight. So it's very important, especially in this COVID era, to have really strong essays.


Also note that the common app essay will be specially seen by every college that you apply to where supplemental essays are only seen by one college at a time. So the common FSA is one essay that sounds to every single school in the CommonApp system, while supplemental essays requested individually by each school, right. So for example, from Cornell, or RPI, they ask for supplemental essay, I'm going to write directly to them, it's only going to go to that one school, not all the other schools, while for right common, I bet say it's going to go to both schools, Cornell and RPI individually, right. So that's why the common FSA is really important, because it's going to a lot more schools than just one supplemental essay. And so because of these kind of reasons I've laid out, the essay is the single most impactful thing you'll write during the business process period. To make a really strong CommonApp essay, you definitely want to make sure that your essay is deeply personal. The single most important thing that your CommonApp has to achieve is winning over the admissions officer on a personal level, you want them to walk away from me in your essay as an advocate for your mission. At selective schools, one or more admissions officers actually have to advocate forcefully for you in a committee. So they're in that rate, you have to really story a portion of cord with the admissions officer for them to want to accept you into the university. And so establishing a deeply personal story that connects the admissions reader, as if they're seeing the person on the other side is very, very important. In order to do this, your essay must reveal things about you that can't be learned just by reading your resume or transcript. Again, it's not just kind of writing an essay that shows off a lot of things that your resume is writing an essay that characterizes who you are in one particular aspect of your life, and will kind of break this down a little bit. Your goal is to show much more about who you are, again, those characteristics that traits, how you see the world, not about what you've done. So not really listing those resume type things in essay form. At the end of the day, you also want the reader to feel your emotions as they read the essay and become invested in your positive outcome or journey. Right. So a lot of this will involve being vulnerable in the essay, being open to talking about motions in the moment, rather than kind of just writing narrative on narrative. So that's how you kind of let the admissions officer be in your own shoes, kind of feel what you're feeling the moment and eventually kind of side with your story and strike a personal quarter theme itself. So so that begs the question, how do you create the personal connection in the first place? Right. And before we dive into that, I'm just gonna check the q&a box. I think we're good there. We also have an event coming up today at 6pm. Eastern. It's an introduction to undergrad business schools. So if you guys are interested in applying to business schools across the US, this is a really good live stream to kind of figure out what a business will entail. And how to choose the best one for you, specifically your interest in business. So definitely check out this live stream if you're interested.


Alright, so to create this personal connection that I mentioned before, your essay definitely need to explore these following concepts. So concept one is talking about how you think about the world around you both something's happening, and upon further reflection. So what do you mean by that, you're trying to explain how you see the world around you, not just the immediate environment, but the people. So admissions officers curious about how you interact with other people, or how you interact with the world, and how you emotionally respond to the world. Right. So it seems very abstract when I'm talking about it. But when you start to contextualize that into an essay, it's really about describing things through your own lens, and not just kind of how a typical person would describe an event environment or the people they see. Right. So you kind of want to provide your own personal insight to the world around you, essentially. The second concept is a demonstration of your core values, you don't just want to state them, but you want to exemplify them as specific things. So by that is, you don't just want to say, I'm a very happy person, right? In your essay, that just stating, right, you're saying you're really happy person. Rather, to make a strong essay, you want to show off or exemplify in specific things that you've done, that you are a happy person. So maybe that might be how you describe the environment around you could show that you're happy person, or describe your passion for something that you're doing. That's implicitly telling the admissions officer that you're a happy person. And implicitly, you're going to make a stronger essay by doing it that way. And then the third thing you want to include in your essay, third concept is talking about how you respond emotionally to different situations and aspects of your background, both in the moment and over time. So again, this comes back to the idea of talking more from an emotional lens, right? Sharing, being open to sharing your current state of emotions, whether it be frustration, or validation, or relief or joy, right. And again, don't just state those things, but show them through your own words, show them through your tone, to make it a really strong kind of storytelling that happens in the CommonApp as a. Cool, and definitely feel free to ask questions. To kind of clarify these topics. I know they're kind of abstract at the moment. But hopefully, I'll clarify them as I go through through certain examples. So other great hallmarks of a common FSA would be one to avoid cliche or common topics. Note that admissions officers read thousands and thousands of essays per cycle. For example, on music, and sports. So if your topic is cliched or common, then your essay has to be much stronger to stand out. So a typical way to kind of assess if an essay is cliche, is to think about if the end of the story is predictable or not. Right? So if I'm reading the essay, can I predict what the ending will be? If I can, chances are that essays cliche, right? So for example, if I was a star quarterback of my high school football team, and I got injured, right, okay, so now I'm reading an essay about that I'm reading an essay about it. And I'm gonna anticipate that maybe the star quarterback, at the end of the essay kind of wins a championship, or kind of fails, but tries really hard to do so. Right? Sort of a predictable ending at that point, right? It's very kind of one line, I'm thinking has to do with sports probably has to do with winning a sport or something like that. very predictable, cliche topic. Now, the question is how to make it more unique, less cliche, maybe have a less predictable ending. So maybe the star quarterback got injured, and then turned to a different sport, where his dexterity, his coordination, his sense of balance, actually did do serve him well, right. And maybe that was ballet dancing. So this quarterback got injured, and then decided to pursue ballet dancing, and had a really strong kind of background did that and excelled in that, right? In that way. It's a very less cliche ending, less predictable ending, so that actually make a stronger essay. Right? So that's just an example. But hopefully, that kind of clarified that idea. Another hallmark of a great CommonApp essay is to be have well written an essay with strong grammar and high quality writing. This is definitely important that more selective schools, you also want to have strong flow and readability. And that often happens by getting someone else to read your essay if you can't use this for yourself. Then finally, like I talked about before, you want to take make use of the entire real estate of the essays that you have. So that often might look like making use of the full 650 words available to you on the Common App essay when it comes to essay structure, There's three structures that we typically see. The first is a narrative essay. So you tell one story from start to finish. It can be a moment in time, or chronological retelling of a longer narrative. It's usually based around one main theme as well. So an example of this is, maybe I just moved to a new high school. And so, and I've been at this high school for three years now. And I want to share that in my common FSA. So the start of my story will be started freshman year, and my story will be middle of junior year. Okay. So have a clear start, have a clear finish. And maybe the theme that I'm exploring is my passion for science, right? So across this experience in a new high school, I developed a passion for science, right? So that's an example of a narrative essay. Now, the second structure that we have is a series of anecdotes, or montage. This is typically a series of disconnected anecdotes are moments of time, and they reveal multiple themes. So what do I mean by that? So to extend upon the analogy of being a new high school student, maybe for every like two or three years, from first grade, all the way to high school, I kept moving to New schools. So maybe at each new school, it was a new story that I want to tell across my kind of timeline of education, right? So I want to put that in my comrade the story. So each school, maybe I learned something new about myself, I learned something new about science, right. And that's what I want to convey in my comment, per se. So I could do that. And that way, it would be a series of anecdotes across multiple high schools, it almost be like a montage of different kind of educational things that all line up into one timeline that reveal multiple themes about myself. Cool. And then finally, the last essay structure is unconventional structure. So what does that look like? So maybe if I'm passionate about computer science, I would write my essays and lines of code. Or if I'm an avid Shakespeare Pran, I could write my essays in ionic pentameter, right? So again, it's kind of like whatever you want to do with it. But it is definitely high risk, high reward. So if I'm writing my essay about poetry, I'm not going to write my essays structurally in lines of code, right? It wouldn't really make sense. So you definitely have to match the structure of your essay with the content of your essay, make sure they line up. And that's why we typically say this is a higher bar for success. If it's not done quite well, it's kind of risky, might not sit well with the admissions officer in the first place. Okay. So other general content guidelines, your essay should be mostly about you, as a high schooler, it's okay to reference an event pi school, we have to bring the essay route to who you are today. Very important, because you're applying as a high school student into college. admissions officers really don't care about who were, say five or 10 years ago, for the most part. So unless all that's very instrumental to your upbringing, and influences who you are today, might not be as relevant to include in your essay. your essay should also be about a personal experience, not about other events in world history. But if you feel a connection to a world event, you must bring it back to your personal engagement with that event. So again, this kind of goes back to the point that I made before, if you're going to talk about external men around you need to bring it back to who you are, and talk about it from your own perspective. your essay shouldn't be about your experience with the Coronavirus, you can either write about that responded to the COVID prompt or responding to the additional info section. And finally, know your audience called admissions officers, especially at selective and private colleges tend to be very progressive. So it's okay to talk about more progressive ideas, they actually might kind of look upon it favorably. However, say if you're applying to a university like Liberty University, with no be more conservative, you might not talk about say like LGBTQ rights, for example, because it might not sit well with them in terms of admissions, right. So just kind of keep the university that you're applying for in mind. Some other guidelines that we just want to mention, your essay shouldn't have a title. We say this because that is kind of eat out the word space. And it also really doesn't contribute much to the idea of the essay overall. your essay shouldn't use quotes from historical figures or famous people. We say this because we'd rather you put things into your own words, not going to repeat words from someone else. your essay shouldn't have any content that's inappropriate, racist, sexist, homophobic. And unless it's in dialogue or using a very precise way, generally avoid slang and dialect as well. All right, awesome.


So just I'll take the moment here to introduce another event that we have coming up. It's a live profile review session, coming tomorrow at 4:30pm Eastern where You'll have a chance to submit profiles ahead of time, 30 minutes before the event. And based on the amount of submissions, we'll get probably a review about 10 profiles on average these events. And we'll be giving you a good idea of based on skills that you want to apply to and your profile background, how good of a chance that you have to get into these colleges. So if you're interested in kind of having your profile read, definitely registered for this event, and submit your profiles ahead of time. Okay, so I do see two questions real quick. Barbie asks, Is the CommonApp limited to the US? No, it's not. It's available to international students as well. Another question from Lance. Hi, greetings from Belize. Hello, would you suggest incorporating examples of activities you participated in? So I mentioned before that on the common app, we usually don't want to put in a lot of kind of resume type material. However, we'll kind of get to this in a bit. But if there's a story that involves one of the activities, or maybe two or three of the activities that you did, might be relevant to talk about that activity. However, we don't want to kind of start including a lot of different activities that aren't as relevant to the storytelling that's going on with the content.


So you want to be aware of what activities you're sharing? And if they're kind of relevant to what idea you want to express about yourself.


Monica has a really good question. So as a rule about not including quotes, district No, not really. And we'll kind of get to this in a bit as well. So you can share quotes, as long as you're not using them to kind of just supplement or supplant words that you could have used yourself. So we'll kind of get to that.


Right. You also want to think of your CommonApp essay as a portfolio as well. So along with the CommonApp essays, you're going to have your supplemental essays that to be submitted to the school. So because of this, we oftentimes suggests that take into account all the different essays that you're going to write across your applications. And make sure you're not repeating ideas in your supplemental essays. So each essay should convey something different about you should keep in mind the other essays you're going to write when picking your common topic. So, for example, if I'm applying to another school, so UC Berkeley, for example, maybe that's not a good example. They're not in the Congo. Let's say, let's say, oh, let's go RPI gun. Okay. So say I'm applying to RPI. And they ask, why do you want to be an engineer? Right? There's supplemental essays asking them. So I read an essay I said to them, but then I realized my common FSA also talked about me wanting to be an engineer. To some level, it's redundant to share those two essays to one school, because they're just going to get to the same assets. So before you even start writing the essay, it's better to plan ahead of time and think to yourself, if I'm going to submit an essay to RPI, talking about why I want to be an engineer. Why would I repeat the same ideas in my common app essay? Why don't I talk about something else? So a good idea there in that case, is think qualities that make a good engineer, could be creativity could be leadership. Right? Right. in common. If I say about you being creative person, are you being a leader, rather than you being an engineer, right. So that's a good example. And then kind of last point about this portfolio idea is you want to create a comprehensive narrative across your essays, right? So you're trying to create a picture of yourself throughout all these multiple essays that are writing to the admissions reader. So it'd be very helpful to think ahead of time, think of the characteristics that are most embodied by you, and then share stories that relate those characteristics to your audience.


Then there's also the aspect of getting feedback on your assets. You can ask a teacher, parent, friend or older classmate, and then CollegeVine also offers this tool called a live essay review. So we do these live essay reviews on live streams. So we do have live essay review events, which you can sign up for. But we also have a pure essay review tool, where you can virtually submit your essays to our website, and we can have someone grade and review your essays for you. In terms of getting feedback in your essays, you can also ask multiple readers, typically four or five. in advance, we want to know what you want them to take away from your essay. And then after they've read your essay, you can see if the takeaways that you want them to get are the same ones that they got after reading yourself. You want to ask them questions like this Feel true to who I am as person. And does this sound like me? Oftentimes, you know, after four or five people read your essay, everyone's kind of have their own opinions, everyone's going to have one, insert something into your essay, or take something away. That you know the essay could stop sounding like you had a certain point, or if not written correctly, could just not sound like you to start with, right. So these are some things that you want to check in on. And just make sure you're doing accurately, the best way to do that is have people read your essays. Because at the end of the day, you know, someone, some admissions officer is going to read your essays in the first place.


Alright, let's break down the pumps.


So the first pump, like I've read before, some students have the background energy interests or account that is so meaningful, they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. So if we respond to this question by either identifying the background or identity, you want to focus on deep intense reflection on something that is more specific situation or challenge. So for example, you could talk about colorism in the South Asian or African American community, or how immigration enforcement affects family relationships in the Hispanic community. So see how these things aren't directly about, say, a kind of vague cultural background or identity, we're really identifying specific things within those communities that are impactful to the student's life. If you connect an underpinning of your culture, or background to an academic interest, or something non cultural, that could also be interesting. So for example, maybe your parents are super oriented around order cleanliness in the house, whether that's parent of workers, or cultural, if you're Japanese American, you could tie that to why you love the order and precision of double entry, bookkeeping, and accounting that you discovered via the school store and fbla. And why you want to pursue that in college. Right. So here's another specific example of how cultural influences the way you see things, and how that kind of your own perspective influences what you like. So, very, very interesting exploration. Also, note that background identity can be religion, or politics. But note that these are contentious cultural issues, they carry more risk when being read by admissions officer dushyant more conservative schools. And for that reason, you want to keep in mind the culture of the school. If you're gonna respond as prompt in terms of identity or interest, the biggest mistake is writing about what you've already done. You must connect to deeper personality traits or insights about your worldview. You really can't allow this essay to read like a resume in paragraph four. So sometimes it's good to focus on an interest in talent that isn't on the resume in that humanistic step.


So for example, if you're gonna talk about background, Genji, it could be a dominant personal trait. Also don't sleep on regional state, or even town culture as an element here. Culture doesn't always have to be fine, again, by religion, or politics or anything like that. It can really just be something that's stems from a geographic place. You can reflect on your privilege, but you need to do so in a way that is thoughtful as well. Definitely identify essays that identity essays can sometimes come off as an original, particularly if reading something like the immigrant story. immigrant stories are oftentimes cliche, right? So if I start reading an immigrant story, it almost predict the ending that there's some assimilation that happens, and kind of amount of comfort grows with the student. Make it unique, right? So you want to be careful that if you're writing an immigrant story, for example, it's not kind of super unoriginal, right. And identity. Identity essays, oftentimes fall into that bucket of being cliche, unfortunately. Right on the prompt to the lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback or failure. How did it affect you? What did you learn from the experience? The immediate temptation, a lot of people fall to it, is to write about an academic or extracurricular failure. This can be done, but there's two issues. One, there's a sense of proportion failure, or a challenge is relatively mundane. So for example, not winning an award at a Model UN Conference, writing an essay about that can come off as very privileged, right. And then number two topics can also be cliched. 650. essays in one cycle, are about getting better at cross country or tennis. Right. So when writing about academics, or extracurriculars, keep in mind these two things, the scope of your problem Is it extensive? Does it concern kind of just localized your high school, it does it impact a lot of people. And then also how many people probably write essays about this in the first place. So definitely kind of be aware of these larger facts, before even attempting to write these essays to make sure that your essays aren't cliche, kind of original to you. So instead of writing, say about academic, or extracurricular kind of success, or failure, maybe a personal emotional adversity or failures can provide a much better foundation for your story. So for example, talking about losing a friend, a family member. Ideally, what you're aiming to show here is how you respond when you're emotional, or otherwise destabilized? And how do you respond to those events? In the moment, and with other people around? You also want to talk about how do you develop or grow as a result of this better? And that's critical. A lot of the essay shouldn't just be talking about what the failure was, or what led up to failure. Ideally, a majority of the essay should be talking about after the failure, and how you grew from the failure. Right? So this question is really three parts. First sentence is literally asking, what is that failure that you encounter? Second part is asking, How did it affect you? And then third, is asking, what did you learn from the experience? Right? There's three questions to answer in this one prompt, it's a little difficult. But if done right, it should be more focused on how the failure affected you. And then what you learn from it as well. Another note is if you faced adversity, like racism, sexual assault, bigotry, poverty, it's definitely kind of looked favorably to write about these things. Because they, they tie in a lot of emotional sentiment, right? It could be a very emotional story that you'd be sharing with admissions reader, and it might wreck a personal court. All right. Before we go on to prompt three, I'll take a look at the q&a box. And then we have another event coming up October 14 at 4:30pm. Eastern, the Ultimate Guide to BS MD programs. So if you're interested in applying to these guaranteed medical programs, definitely check out this live stream. We'll be walking through how do I apply these programs? What kind of like the ideal student is? What are the programs that exist? And talk through some of those larger ideas?


Yeah, Abigail was really great question. Does your topic need to be sad story or something big? Or can it be something that is a daily struggle? Very, very good question. So we'll get that in a bit. But kind of long story short, it can be something that is daily struggle, not everyone's going to have a huge sad story or something momentous that's happened in their life, that's totally fine. It's really just about explaining who you are, as a result of your daily life. There might be small things that kind of happen in your life that better describe who you are. And that's might make a more kind of richer essay in the first place.


Just there asked, good question. What should you do for a good immigration story? Yeah. So what I will say is that everyone kind of has their own immigration story. For most first generation students, I'll say that the immigration story isn't about students about the parents, right, for the most part. So because of that, a lot of essays written about immigration, will be from the perspective of the parents journey, which is kind of away from who the student is in the first place. Right? So if you're going to write an immigration story, first thing is to consider who you actually writing about, are you writing about parents? Are you writing about the students? Are you writing about yourself, right? Ideally, you'd be writing about yourself, because that's what matters more to the admissions rate. So this is who you really want to kind of talk about that should be the central focus of the essay. So when writing a good migration story, First, start talking about yourself more. Other things to consider are what makes your story unique compared to the other interviewers and story out there. There's definitely some unique twists that you can make. And that'll kind of limit the amount of cliche things that you've put into this story in the first place. So think about those two things. I think that's kind of what immediately comes to mind for me. Right. One last question from Felicia, that will get back to the PowerPoint. Felicia asked for the slide presentation be available somewhere on your website? Yes, well, so the presentations recorded under the live stream section of CollegeVine. So in the top bar of the CollegeVine website, there's a live stream drop down tab. Click that and go to live streams. You'll see recordings of today's event in the on demand section. Then the recording will also be sent to you within 24 hours as well.


Right? properly reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged the belief or idea, what prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? This is sometimes difficult for high schools to answer, especially since you've participated in genuine protest. If, for example, unless you participated in genuine protest against social ills. A lot of high schoolers will write about these kind of larger problems in society. Unfortunately, it might be more of a trend and kind of their Instagram page or something like that, rather than them actually being deeply involved in these activities. So if you're responding to this prompt, careful to not jump onto a trend, if you're not personally affected by this adversity or the challenge, right. And that's very important. Because if you're not directly affected by this challenge, and you kind of jump onto a trend, you're not going to write really substantial and moving essay in the first place. And admissions officers want to know if you're actually kind of impacted by these adversities and how involved you are in the first place. So when approaching this prompt, you can discuss a time when you went against social norms within your school club or organization, for example. But you can also discuss a smaller but meaningful change in a work environment or extra curricular experience. I've got like the scale here can be large, it can be small, kind of getting back to Abigail's question about can something be daily struggle. And that's very true, right? Just make sure that these things are something that has impacted your life. So for example, it doesn't have to be something big. So maybe I couldn't participate in gymnastics growing up, because I had to take care of my single parent mother, who, well, sorry, I had to take care of my younger brother, because my single parent mother was working night and day shifts 24, seven, at the local diner, right. And because of that, we had a lot of family financial issues. So I couldn't really pursue my passion of gymnastics, instead, I'd take care of my little brother, right. So it's not like a huge issue that's affecting the world. But to you, that is a really big issue. And you had this really strong problem that you've solved, right? So that kind of gives an example what we mean by it doesn't have to be like a super grand scale. But it can be something small. Right? But really, these essays, reward reflection and introspection at the end of the day. With this prompt, you really have an opportunity to bring the reader inside your head. Oh, okay. So I just want to make sure you guys can see and hear me because I think Brian might not be able to see everyone or hear me. I'm just worrying if someone else is having technical issues, or is it just kind of a one person thing?


If not, can you guys just let me know in the q&a box.


You guys can still hear and see me just in case and then I'll chat Brian to let him know that if we're just having a technical issue, right. It's just kind of his gauge. Okay. Yeah. Thanks. Thanks, Elise. Okay, you guys can all hear me see me girl just O'Brien.


Okay, perfect. Yeah. Thanks, guys for responding. Thanks, Mo. Samuel chill. Alright.


Okay. And then.


Okay, Jennifer gave me a tip. So if you guys are having tech issues, just refresh the page a couple times, it'll start working again. But thanks for your patience, guys. All right. But again, with this prompt, you definitely have an opportunity to bring the reader inside your head. So you can really show them your how you process durations, how you assess them, how you make decisions, how you think. And that's really critical when respondents comp in the first place. So again, it's not just defining what the challenge or belief is or the idea. It's really talking about how you process that in your head. And why are you making decisions the way you make them, not help maybe other people. All right, next up Tom Ford. Describe the problem you solve their problem you'd like to solve. It could be intellectual challenge or research query and ethical dilemma. Anything that is a personal importance, no matter the skill, explain its significance to you, and what steps you took or could be taken to identify solution. When this question saying that you can list anything of personal importance, it gives you a lot of freedom.


It allows you to explore more academic topics. But again, if you're going to talk about academics, you must approach your passion from a personal lens, right? So you can talk about, say, astronomy, or engineering or music. But those might be cliche topics, if you only talk about them at face value. You want to talk about those things from your own perspective.


Like I talked about before, you can address a hypothetical problem, but you must reference why you personally care about that topic. So for example, if you're going to talk about climate change, you must connect caring about climate change to a personal rational. Again, smaller scale problems tend to be more interesting to read about and stand out more as well.


So going back to abacos, question is really great question. And it kind of ties to a lot of problems. Lots of people will write about climate change and in racism, solving misogyny. But the real point is to be more specific in your responses.


So if I'm example, if I'm, I guess, curious about urban city planning or something, maybe I'll talk about zoning reform, or creating more roundabouts. If I care about tech, maybe I'll talk about building a social network with a privacy friendly business model. Or if I care about my rights, maybe I'll talk about finding a balance between free speech and minority protection.


If I care about curriculum development, making the culture of STEM AP classes more friendly to women, right. So specificity here is really key, especially for this prompt. That's where you can identify more unique things to talk about, and make them less cliche essays, for example.


Okay, I think Brian still having this issue, or maybe switch to a new browser that potentially use I don't think Brian can hear me or see me.


I'm just gonna respond to Brian.


Okay, Stella also had another suggestion. Sometimes you need to click on the video screen for the audio to journal. Right? So maybe that works Brian. Thanks, guys for these good tips. All right.


On promt five, discuss an accomplishment event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and new standard standing of yourself or others.


Here you can discuss a formal accomplishment or event, but you must discuss how it catalyzed personal growth, right. So again, it's not talking about the external thing. At the end of the day, it's talking about your own kind of understanding of the external thing, your own perspective. here talking about the more informal then, or the assertion, definitely more meaningful as well.


Most essays, if respond to this prompt, right, too much before innominate, after, or vice versa, right. So for writing an essay about growth, Ideally, we'd set up a picture of the before student and the after student, and how those things kind of transitioned over time. We don't want to focus too much on the before picture of who I am, or too much in the after picture, right? You want to balance that that's what we're trying to get out. Excuse me.


The main thing here is to define your personal growth and connect it to the event.


Again, the event is secondary to learning more about growth.


You're not really trying to explain. I mean, you are to some level, but you don't just want to explain what the event was, what those environmental things are. You want to talk about your own perspective, your own understanding in your own work from those environmental things.


There's a huge temptation to use this to highlight your biggest extraocular accomplishment or passion that can be done. But it can't just be listening what you accomplish. The essay should be about what's happening behind the scenes in your head and heart. So really, it's providing the logical means for what you're doing, as well as kind of what your passion is and why you're doing it in the first place.


Prompt six, discuss a topic idea or concept you find so engaging, that it makes you lose track of time. Why does it captivate you? What, or who do you trust? To when you want to learn more. Here, you can expand on a topic or concept that might be seemingly small, but make the essay more about you not the topic, you have an opportunity here to show your passion can use beautiful descriptive writing. So a lot of students kind of take advantage of this. So they find themselves to be good descriptive writers definitely go for it. However, if you're gonna address this prompt, you must address why you think why the thing captivates you in the first place, you don't just want to say that it's interesting to you. If you're going to be more creative and descriptive in your writing, you often want to kind of include this idea of talking about your senses or you feelings, right. It's more about this emotional kind of attachment to the thing that you're going to explain not just what the thing is in the first place. You can dive into an academic topic, but you want to be careful not to get too focused on the topic. Ideally, again, like keep talking about, you should show personal connection, a higher level intellectual element, or abstraction that you find interesting. And pick a topic that's one layer deeper than the subject itself.


So you're going to talk about economics, maybe for example, talk about market monetarism instead, right? So identify specific things that are more unique to you, or unique interests to demonstrate why these things are truly captivating to you. And then again, don't just describe these things.


Talk about from your own perspective, right. So admissions, readers want to hear things for your own voice, your own tone, it's really hard to do, but that's what you're gonna have to do to make a really strong accent.


And finally, prompt seven, share an essay on any topic of your choice, it can be one you've already written on the response to a different prompt, or one of your own design.


First off, you want to write the essay, after figuring out what you want to say, then figure out the prompt. This essay is also high risk, high reward, there's lots of freedom, I could get lots of danger. It's like we talked about before, in terms of writing an unconventional structure. Prop seven kind of feeds into that. So again, if you're excuse me, if you're interested in computer science, you might write your essays on lines of code. If you're interested in Shakespeare, you might use ionic pentameter. So kind of goes back into that line, high risk, because you don't know how it might be read by the reader. But there's also high reward because it could be done well, it could be very unique across other essays. Just note that you're still trying to achieve the same goals as with other essays. And you still must address who you are as a person and fulfill the other goals that we talked about throughout the livestream. With that, kind of jump into q&a. So I do see a lot of questions here. So I'll start kind of answering them.


Hopefully, Brian was able to figure out the live stream.


I think there's just some technical bugs sometimes, but it will be recorded anyway.


Okay, let's jump into questions here.


Okay, Barbie has a question. Is it important to write about an issue which we faced? Or can it be an issue we believe in? Yeah, so this is going back to a previous slide that I mentioned.


I think it's this.


Ah, okay. Yeah. No. All right. Well, basically, short answer, it can be something that can find it very, very, essentially, it should ideally be about an issue that you have faced could be an issue that you believe in. But what admissions officers care about is your personal involvement within this kind of issue, right? So if you're not deeply involved in it, or hasn't affected you, on a more personal level, it might not be worth kind of including, or it might not make a strong essay, because in some sense, you're not reading from a very personal place. So ideally, if you're going to write an essay about an issue that you want to solve, then you're going to have some personal involvement with that issue.


Right. Great question, though.


Let's see.


Ah, okay. Felicia asked great question. Can you answer two prompts if they're related to what you want to write about? So, I would kind of say that each of those seven prompts are in some ways unique to themselves, right?


They're kind of targeting different things. Um, there are overlapping ideas. For the most part, they're trying to get at different things about the student.


Right? So I was just kind of thinking of one prompt, it might have overlapped with the second prompt. But at the end of the day, you should just respond to one of those problems. So on the common app, when you're filling it out, you'll before submitting, you'll indicate which prompt to answer.


You can only click one of those, right.


So it's okay to have a mix of two prompts. But in some ways, it should ideally, just be one prompt that you're actually responding. Hopefully that clarified your question, feel free to kind of clarify with me in the q&a box if you want to. Okay, um, next question.


Okay, Samuel asked, great question. How do you make sure each essay line serves a unique purpose and transition with proceeding and succeeding sentences? Yeah, so you've kind of kind of hinted at what the answer to this question is, it's really about, before you start writing an essay, you should have in mind what you want to share with the admissions reader, you want to have almost like an outline of what you're about to write in your head, or actually written out on a piece of paper.


And so as you start writing an essay, make sure that every sentence you write directly impacts what you're trying to say in the first place.


You don't really want to write very superfluous things, right? So in doing so, the way to do that is write line by line. And after you write each sentence, make sure to ask yourself, why did I write the sentence? How's it forwarding my point? Right? So, yeah, so you kind of answer your question. So really, to have sentences that are unique to your purpose of writing, assess each question line by line, as you jealous group motion, what kind of advice would you give to a student wants to write about a family relationship they have, and how it's influenced them. So writing about family, in some sense, could be writing about a family culture, it could be talking about a problem that you have growing up could be about influential figures in your family, like a lot of different things. Going back to some of the main guidelines for writing these essays, you want this essay to be more about you. When typically, I've seen a lot of family relationship type essays, they start to talk more about their family members less about themselves, right? Your goal is to talk more about yourself, and then explain your family members from your own perspective, or explain the influence that they've had, from your own perspective. So to write a really strong relationship about family relationships, I'm sorry, write a really strong essay about failing relationships, really try to make sure you're focusing more on yourself less on kind of your whole family.


And, like I mentioned, there's a whole bunch of different avenues, you can go down in that one line of thought. So definitely try to make sure you have a specific adni that we're going to go down and just stick to that one main theme across your resume.


Nathaniel asks, if you want to talk about your future career in law or medicine that requires you to go to grad school first, but it is your goal, or passion? Is this okay for the common app?


Good question. So I would say no, I mean, it's okay. So if you're applying to certain majors, in hopes that you get into law school or medical school or something like that, this isn't really the place to do that in an essay. Really, what you're trying to do here is just describe yourself from certain character traits through an essay, and you don't really have to talk about your future career goals that can be done really well in other essays, for example, like why major essays right? There, you can really describe what courses you intend to take the score of interest, why you're interested in those courses, and how they play into your future career goals. Typically, on the common app, we don't see that future career goal projection done by students, because students should rather be focusing on really convincing admissions reader. This is why I am this is why i what i can contribute to the university.


Right. Lillian asks, could you write about something like surgery, even if it happened a little before high school? For sure, why not? But I would say that makes sure that if you're going to write about To surgery, it has direct impact on who you are today. Right? Ideally, you know, surgery is kind of, I would say, like a one time, not a one time thing, lifelong effects, I would say. But make sure it has impact on you at least say like one to two years before today. So when talking about it, you can write for more kind of like a current stamp. But yeah, it's a very kind of unique story. And it follows all these guidelines that we talked about today.


Definitely go for it.


Why it is interesting question, I would actually ask clarification for Wyatt. So you said could prompt six be an other world, worldly topic? So prompt six is this.


I see what you're saying. So maybe you're talking about? Can we talk about some things that are out of this world? Like the Milky Way galaxy? Andromeda Galaxy? Mars, maybe? Yeah, I would say so. It'd be pretty captivating to talk about astronomy here. But again, just don't talk about it for the sake of talking about an academic subject.


Talk about it, about why it captivates you.


Why? You're so moved by the idea of astronomy first.


Yeah. But again, if I didn't answer that question correctly, feel free to correct me.


Right? Am I asked? Do you think it would be better to write about an interest I loved as a child, and I've grown in it over time, and have accomplishments stemming from it, or should write an essay about a medical journey I've gone through and grown through. I think they're both great ideas. what's worrying me about the first point is that if you have an interest that you loved as a child, is it still relevant today?


Right? If not, then you might not want to write about it.


But if it is, it still impacts each day and you still have that same interest. Go for it.


I would say both would possibly make strong stories.


Okay, um, another question we have from Kurt. Our traits and characteristics that be kumain are essays shouldn't be explicitly said. It should be inferred by the reader. Correct? Right on, right on, Kurt. That's what we're trying to get out. Right, implicitly express who we are by showing, showing how we interact with the world, showing it through the narrative, rather than directly saying, I'm a curious person. I am a leader. You can show it through your language and your tone. That's what we're trying to go for. So kudos to you.


Felicia asks, in terms of readability, will the admissions officers care about the flesh Kincaid score? flesh Kincaid is probably heard of that before but readability test? No, they're not going to put a metric onto your essay, I just looked it up what it was, no, they're not going to kind of judge your essay quality based on a score derived from some rubric. Rather, you want to make sure that your essay is readable though. Like you don't want to incomplete sentences, you don't want bad grammar? Because that won't be read well, by the admissions readers, especially at selective schools. They're expecting some kind of level of reading advocacy, literacy, and reading these essays. But yeah, they're not going to, again, not going to put it against the rubric to score it.


All right, Abigail asked question, could you read about health question, I'll say allergies, and how it affects the daily doing whatever you can to help the situation, the choices to keep doing what you love, despite the allergies.


Okay, so this kind of goes back to your question before Abigail, about talking? How do we have to talk about things that are like super momentous? Or can they be smaller things that impact us daily, day to day, right? In some ways, again, I don't know like the personal influence of allergies on your life. But maybe allergies might not be as impactful or might not make as strong of a story, or convince admissions readers that this was any adversity at all right. I feel like everyone goes through allergies, but maybe yours are super severe, or not just like seasonal allergies, maybe there's something in life threatening to it. So that life threatening aspect has really influenced your life. That could be something profound to talk about. I will say like season allergies might not be as convincing to admissions reader might not seem super like drastic or anything like that.


So I would definitely kind of just make sure it's like a super profound thing.


Okay, well, we'll take another couple minutes to answer questions. More coming through. Lance us. I've read CommonApp essays with a conclusion that basically says, all these things happen to me and made me more adaptable, etc. for college. He suggests things like this.


Yeah, so usually, conclusions don't matter as much. It's really about the introduction, or the body of the essay, I would say, right? conclusion, conclusions, I really mattered. Those are when I review essays are kind of like the smaller things that I care about. But I would say kind of make sure you address the theme. You kind of wrap up the story as well, as oftentimes, this could be an academic, I wouldn't say it's like the strongest ending, but it also, it's not like a weekend. But there's definitely ways to be more creative. So do I suggest an ending like this? If it happens, I don't really mind it. But I would ask like, Can you make this essay ending more interesting, for example?


Okay, I asked, as I'm using conversational tone throughout my essay, will that address as genuine and emotional? Or will they be more concerned that vocabulary isn't complex? Great point. So oftentimes, for essays you don't need kind of like the most complex vocabulary. Rather, what readers are asking for is complex thoughts, thoughts that are unique to you. thoughts that can only come from you, and thoughts that really show a lot of introspection, right? So vocabulary here doesn't have to be complex. The ideas should be complex in some way. Not to confuse the reader, but to show who you are in a more unique way. If you're doing conversational tone, that's actually kind of helpful, right? You want to put things in your own kind of vernacular.


And it might, it usually comes off as more genuine.


In terms of being emotional. Usually, it's not the tone that you bought. Yeah, this is the tone. But it's also the stuff that you share in the essay. And I guess it is tone and word choice. Yeah, I think you're doing a good job. I think you get the idea. But yeah, so recapping what I said, use conversational tone, it's helpful. But don't make it so conversational, that you're using a lot of slang in your own dialect. If that makes sense, and it's okay not to use like super complex vocabulary. Okay, perfect. I'll take another minute or so to answer more questions. There's a lot coming in, which is awesome. Okay, Kurt asks, Is there a general format, just with a common FSA? Yeah, so we talked about structures a little bit before, I'll go back to that slide.


Um, in terms of format, so if I'll just talk about the narrative essay structure, we're gonna have an introduction, maybe a couple body paragraphs, and then a conclusion. It's nothing really too fancy there? Um, yeah, I wouldn't say it's like a typical, say English project for high school class, I would say you can kind of make it what you want. It doesn't have to be four to five sentences for every paragraph. Some paragraphs can just be one sentence, as long as that sentence is very impactful, or is that way for a purpose, right. So there's no like one general format or suggest, but usually, these structures are what we see most. And within that, feel free to use different paragraph points, or, yeah, but in general, you know, introduction, kind of set the scene, set what you're talking about. body paragraph to kind of introduce your ideas, introduce who you are in the context of whatever's going on. In conclusion, again, like I mentioned before, doesn't really matter as much, but should generally wrap up the theme and idea.


All right, great. Let's wrap up for today.


Really great questions. Overall.


I think you guys were asking really in depth questions. A lot of them I haven't heard before. So really, really good job. Thank you guys for that. Awesome. So hope you guys enjoyed your weekend. Hopefully you guys enjoyed this livestream. I'll see you guys next time. And love you guys game. Alright, take care now.



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Undergrad College: Boston University '20

Major: Medical Science

Graduate College: Boston University School of Medicine

Work Experience: I've been working at CollegeVine for 6 years mentoring students through BS/MD and undergraduate admissions. I have held many roles on the advising and livestream teams. I am currently a medical student at Boston University and actively pursuing research at Boston University, Mass General Brigham and the Broad Institute.


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