4 days ago
Admissions Advice

Should all my essays relate to extracurriculars?

I’m trying to draft all my essays, and for some of the supplementals, I’m not sure how I can connect them to my extracurriculars. I can build my character/identity in them, but I don’t have any extracurricular/action to point to based on what I said (for example, the UPenn essay about writing a letter to someone you are grateful for is tricky). What do I do? I am trying to apply to elite American schools.


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3 answers

4 days ago[edited]

Hi @bleh, whomever told you to tie your Common App Main Essay or supplemental essays to your extracurricular s is giving you bad advice. Sorry, but there is nothing either in the instructions of essays or former examples that I'm aware of by elite matriculates who say this is a preferable way.

This is why the 2 have nothing to do with each other.


Your ECs are something you chose to do over a long period of time, say 4 years or longer. They show evidence of how you like to spend your free time outside of the classroom. You can be a world class freestyle skier or writer or someone that creates apps or someone that is a Corps de Ballet dancer in a regional company. There are no rules and if you are masterful at whatever you decided your ECs are to defend your college application, you will not be rejected because you decide not to do a varsity sport or play an instrument. It takes all kinds to make an Elite College Circus thrive under the tent, and there are many roles to fill and many openings for trailblazers who do not have position to play.

Common App Essay and Supplemental Essays

Essays are something you write in during your application process that helps inform the admissions officer who you are a human being. The intent is to give them information about your personal character that helps them understand how you think, how you communicate and express yourself in your own voice, how you look at the world through your lens. Essays help admissions officer connect the dots in your college application data points and sets and allow them to see more complete person besides the facts and figures.

If you understand what the intent of each part is you will realize that connecting your ECs to your essays intentionally may muddy the waters and not be fluid, realistic, portrayal of your best qualities as a human being. Also keep in mind, that you have human beings reading your file. The want to find a reason to advocate for you versus discarding your file. The other mistake applicants make is to worry too much about the format of the essay or prioritizing it's grammatical perfection and word-smithing or content. Your main essay doesn't have to follow a traditional format. It can be written as prose, as poetry, from different lens (1st, 2nd, 3rd person).

At elite schools 90-95% of the applicants will get rejected. A lot of them will have both similar grades and test scores. A lot of them will have impressive ECs and recommendations. Why? Because despite the rise in applications from new types of applicants who don't have test scores, the applicant pool at most elites is self-selecting.

For example, if you apply to Brown, you will know that 95% get rejected and most successful admits are either ALDCs (recruited athletes, legacies, development $$$ kids, or faculty brats), high achieving low income first gen students or super high achieving white or Asians with 99%+test scores that when to Private day schools or Private Boarding Schools. If you go to a public HS and do not fit these categories, it's a uphill battle.

So what can you do about it. You have to understand that in this self-selecting pool there are sons and daughters who are already a better fit for Brown right? Their sports align because they've been playing water polo for 4 years or rowing crew, their arts align because they have been playing Carnegie Hall as a chamber group in HS or know how to dance or play all the sections of the Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker or have giving TED talks at their school. Publics can't compete with privates in terms of resources from what is taught inside the classroom to college counselors who only have to cover 20-25 students versus 300. Therefore, essays become one of the only things you have total control over so you can't afford to waste the opportunity to advocate for yourself in your words that effectively convey your ideals, thoughts, views, and feelings. If your ECs do connect, well that's great but do not force them to connect.

One thing that YouTube fails to do is communicate how very many applicants do not have a happy ending. You see, 99% of the college reactions content is about "pulling out that miracle Harvard acceptance after being reject at all 7 other Ivys" or something to that effect. There are over 400,000 losers on Ivy day, but what we see are a smidgen of a 100 success stories from super high achieving Asians and at the opposite end those whose demographics aligned with DEIA policies with Elite admissions to level the playing field.

We don't see 75% of the Valedictorians who got rejected at Harvard.

Good luck

12 hours ago

To add to the other answers, all of your essays do not have to relate to your extracurriculars - in fact, most of your essays should not even mention them. The essays are meant to give admissions readers an insight into your personality, something that your extracurriculars list and transcript can't capture. The best way to explain your identity and character is truly by writing about life stories. Hope this helps!

4 days ago

What specifically are you unsure about? The question from Penn seems straightforward. IF they are looking for someone you are grateful for you should think about someone who's had an impact on your life and be clear in your essay how that impact was received and how it made you a better person. Does that make sense?


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