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2014 NACAC 2014: Make Your Stories Pop: Strategies to Help Students Share Their Own Unique Voices in College Application Essays

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2014 NACAC: Make Your Stories Pop: Strategies to Help Students Share Their Own Unique Voices in College Application Essays : This is the presentation from Rebecca Joseph, Margit Dahl, Valerie Gregory, and Anya Good with tips towards the end of the ppt.

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2014 NACAC 2014: Make Your Stories Pop: Strategies to Help Students Share Their Own Unique Voices in College Application Essays

  1. 1. Make Your Stories Pop: Strategies to Help Students Share Their Own Unique Voices in College Application Essays NACAC 2014 Rebecca Joseph, California State University, Los Angeles, CA Margit Dahl, Yale University, CT Anya Good, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, VA Valerie Gregory, University of Virginia, VA
  2. 2. Essays = Opportunity • Share • Reflect • Stand Out
  3. 3. What Counselors Can Do • Help students realize that essays give them a chance to: • Tell a story that is important to them. • Share their authentic voice. • Control an aspect of the application process. • Reinforce other important aspects of their application.
  4. 4. How Important Are Essays? 1. Rigor of high school coursework 2. Grades 3. Test scores 4. *Essays 5. Recommendations 6. Activities and interests 7. Special skills, talents, awards, or legacy affiliation
  5. 5. What Do Admissions Officers Look For? Let’s ask our panelists. They should know. Margit Dahl-Yale Valerie Gregory-UVA
  6. 6. Prepare • Find unusual essay prompts • Read a few essays from other students • Prepare a resume • Create a master chart • Major deadlines and requirements • Essay questions: core and supplemental • Look for patterns in the prompts
  7. 7. Reflect • What do I want my college(s) to know about me? • What is the story I want to tell? • How can I communicate what I offer to a college? • In what way(s) have I positively affected my family, community, and/or school?
  8. 8. Brainstorm • “Dear Roommate” Letters • Culture Bags • Facebook Pictures • Write a “Where I’m From” poem modeled on George Lyon’s original • Write three responses to short essay activities prompt: “What activity, in or out of school, have you truly loved, and why?” • “First Thought” writing exercise (where you just write and let the thoughts flow)
  9. 9. The Draft • Into • Lead the reader into the story • Start with a hook • Consider cutting first paragraph(s) from first draft • Through • Use 1/3, 2/3 method • Use first person • Show, don’t tell • Beyond • Connect to who you are now and who you want to be • Evoke core qualities
  10. 10. Edit • Know When to Stop • Just Say “No!” • Students • Parents • Educators • Authentic Voice
  11. 11. PowerPoint 1. Our PowerPoint will be available on the NACAC website. 2. The PowerPoint along with advice and tips on writing the essay from our panelists can be found on slideshare.net/getmetocollege
  12. 12. Valerie Gregory-UVA Essay Tips • Tips for Writing the College Essay • 1. Write about what you know about, what is familiar to you. • 2. When choosing a topic, ask yourself, what do I want this college to know about me that they will not see in my transcript or application form? • 3. Write honestly • 4. Focus in tightly in your essay • 5. Show, do not merely tell in your essay • 6. Use strong verbs and precise nouns • 7. Be specific using interesting details • 8. Develop an effective beginning that draws the reader in and a conclusion that leaves the reader thinking. • 9. If you write about a person, bring out those characteristics that differentiate that person from others. • 10. When you read an essay question typically the first thing that comes to your mind is what you should write about… now you just have to figure out a creative way to get your voice across.
  13. 13. Margit Dahl-Yale Tips • THE COLLEGE APPLICATION ESSAY: Who’s reading your essay, and what do they want? • 1)What’s the goal here? The hope of the admissions officers who read your application is that they will get to know you well through your application. Whether or not you are ultimately admitted, they want to understand just who it is they are considering. Your essay is a big part of that. • 2)Does anyone even read it? The answer is YES. Colleges that require an essay do so for a reason. If they weren’t going to read it, they wouldn’t bother asking for it. • 3)The essay is only one part of the whole application, but it is the most personal part. Courses, grades and test scores are important but lack personality. School recommendations are written by other people. The essay is all about what you choose to convey to the admissions committee about yourself. • 4)What’s more important, grammar and style, or content? They are equally important. Admissions officers hope to learn a number of things from your essay: • How well do you write? If the writing is articulate, you’ve probably done well in English and will be off to a good start in college. If it is problematic in spots, how small or large are the problems? Can the admissions committee overlook them? Would you need some writing help if admitted, and if so, is the college able to provide that help? • What do you have to say? Is the essay reflective and personal? Does it get at the heart of what you are trying to convey? A page packed with text doesn’t necessarily mean you have more to say than someone of fewer words. Sometimes, less is more. One student might convey why they love music more convincingly in a short essay than the student who writes about it in a long but superficial piece. On the other hand, sometimes you do need more words to tell your story. • Does the voice in the essay sound genuine? The best college essays will have the voice of the person who wrote them—usually, a 17(ish)- year-old high school student who comes to life on paper through their words. An essay that has been overly-edited by the adults in your life will lose that voice. (Lesson: write it yourself.) • 5)What does an admissions officer ‘get’ from reading your essay? Many, many things, among which might be: • – A better understanding of your background, which can help put the rest of the application in context. – An understanding of why certain experiences or people have been so important to you, and thus something about what you value.
  14. 14. Margit-Page 2 – A sense of an intellectual bent, a playful mind, or a sense of humor. – A sense of your commitment to the things that most interest you and of how those interests developed. – A sense of the way you interact with others and/or are perceived by them. – An understanding of a special talent you would bring to the college or a special quality you might add to a residential community. – And again, hopefully a good, and realistic, sense of the flesh-and-blood person behind the words. • 6)Is it ok to write on a controversial subject? If it’s something you feel passionate about, go ahead. But write about the topic as it affects you, not simply as something that is a challenging issue in the world today. Remember, it’s a ‘personal’ essay through which we are trying to get to know you. • 7)If your essay is great, will it get you in? Or if it isn’t great, will it keep you out? It depends on what the rest of the application is like. In an otherwise very strong application, a just-average essay won’t keep you from being admitted. Nor will a great essay make up for clear deficiencies elsewhere in the application. But if the rest of the application makes you look like a solid candidate at a particular college, a good personal statement can help tip the scale in your favor. • 8)What if the essay you’ve written is a lot longer than the word limit suggested? Edit it. You do not want to annoy the people who read your application. If a college asks you for a one-page essay, don't send three pages. And don't fit it onto one page by shrinking it into tiny type on your word processor. People have to be able to read it. • Colleges ask you to limit the length for good reason. The admissions office may have thousands of applications to read; if 15,000 or 20,000 applicants write ‘just one more page’, that’s a lot of extra verbiage for admissions staff to process. Forcing you to be selective also gives us a better sense of what’s most important to you. It’s easy to run on until you’ve said everything you have to say; it’s harder to limit yourself, but you will end up selecting the most important details. That being said, if the story you need to tell is important and truly cannot be told within the word limit suggested (and you think the admissions office would agree), be as concise as possible but write the essay. It will be read. • The Common Application essay requires a minimum of 250 words and a maximum of 650. You will be unable to submit more than that.
  15. 15. Margit-Page 3 • Writing your essay: some thoughts and tips: • TO BEGIN WITH… • 1)Remember that this is the part of the application you have total control over. (That's good.) • 2)Don't write your essay at the last minute. This is an important part of the application. Leave yourself enough time to be able to think about it for awhile, talk about it with others if you want, write it, leave it for a few days, and come back to it. • 3) Take seriously any specific instructions an admissions office might include (length, topic, etc.) • 4)If you have questions, don't be afraid to call the admissions office. They're used to getting calls like yours. • FOCUSING YOUR THOUGHTS and CHOOSING A TOPIC • 1)Read all of the essay questions asked by all of the colleges you are applying to. Do all of your schools use the Common Application? If so, you can write one essay. Do they all ask for second essays? If you can write one that is appropriate for three colleges, all the better. Two schools may have open-ended topics, one may be more focused, and if you gear your essay toward the more focused topic you may be able to/want to use it for all three schools. Then… • 2)Sit around and THINK for awhile. What is this essay question asking? Does it speak to me? Make sure your essay answers it, but tell your own story. If the question gives you some latitude, mull over various ideas until you hit upon one that "feels" right, or about which you're more excited than others. If you’ve stared at your computer screen for an hour and a half and written two lines, you don’t have the right topic. Quit for today. Come back tomorrow and start again. If you have the right topic, you’ll know it because the writing will flow more easily. • 3)An interesting topic does not automatically mean an interesting essay. Similarly: an ordinary topic does not automatically mean an ordinary essay. • 4)Write about something that is important to YOU (not to your brother, mother, counselor, or any of the other people who are giving you advice). It will be easier to write and will have a more natural voice. • 5)Don't try to second-guess the admissions office. Not "what do they want to hear?" or "what would they like?" but "what do I want to tell them? What do I want them to know about me before they make their decision? What should I talk about that will give them a feeling for what makes me tick?" Remember, you're in the driver's seat for this one.
  16. 16. Margit-Page 4 • WRITING • 1)Don't try and cover too much. All-encompassing essays will either be too long or, if shorter, superficial. Think about the writing you have read and enjoyed: writing is usually interesting because of its detail, not its generalities. • 2)Be personal. It's your application, your experiences, your thoughts, interests and personality. The admissions committee is trying to get to know you through your own words. Even if the topic is an intellectual one, the reader is looking for a personal response. • 3)Convey your feelings. If you're excited about something, convey that. If you feel strongly about something (positive or negative), express that. Dry essays devoid of feeling don’t tend to be very interesting. • 4)Don't try to be something you aren't. If the humor feels self-conscious, forget it. Don't force a "creative" essay. Write in a voice which feels natural to you. • 5)Be reflective. Write in some depth. Use some detail or specifics, not just general (and superficial, and easy) statements. Flesh out your thoughts. Ask yourself why and how a lot as you write, not so much what, when and where. • 6)What you say as well as how you say it are both important. A great idea poorly expressed will not seem so great. • AFTER WRITING… • 1)PROOFREAD PROOFREAD PROOFREAD. Neatness. accurate spelling and punctuation count. • 2)Do not ask other people to revise your essay. Honesty also counts. It's YOUR essay. Someone else can read it and react to it, but they shouldn't be sitting at the keyboard as they do so. • • • AND FINALLY...Once you've sent your application in, stop worrying • about it. If you did your best, that's all you can ask of yourself. •
  17. 17. Rebecca Joseph-Tips Ten Tips for Writing Powerful College Application Essays • Tip 1. College essays are fourth in importance behind grades, test scores, and the rigor of completed coursework in many admissions office decisions (NACAC, 2013). Don’t waste this powerful opportunity to share your voice and express who you really are to colleges. Great life stories make you jump off the page and into your match colleges. • Tip 2. Develop an overall strategic plan. College application essays should work together to help you communicate key qualities and stories that make you come alive and stand out in front of admissions readers. • Tip 3. Keep a chart of all essays required by each college, including supplementary responses and optional essays. Note: the Common Application changed its essay topics for the 2013-2014 application cycle, so make sure you have the correct prompts. Look for patterns between colleges essay requirements so that you can find ways to use essays more than once. This holds true for scholarship essays. • Tip 4. Read the prompts all the way through. Each prompt may have different questions or probes. Some answers may be implied, but must be clearly evident to a reader. • Tip 5. Plan to share positive messages and powerful outcomes. You can start with life or family challenges. You can describe obstacles or failures you have overcome. But, you must focus on your growth and development, including leadership, initiative, accomplishments, and service. College admissions officers do not read minds, so tell them your powerful life stories and demonstrate the personal qualities you hope to bring to their campuses.
  18. 18. Rebecca-Page 2 • Tip 6. Always write in the first person. Remember, these are autobiographical essays, even when you talk about other people, events, or places. So use the one-third and two-thirds rule. If you choose to write about someone, some place, or something else, you must show how it or the person affected you for the majority of the essay. Your essays show why you belong on and will enrich diverse college communities. • Tip 7. Follow Dr. Joseph’s Into, Through, and Beyond approach. Lead the reader INTO your story with a powerful beginning—a story, an experience. Take them THROUGH your story with the context and keys parts of your story. Make sure the reader understands your continuity, development, leadership, and initiative. End with the BEYOND message about how this story has affected who you are now and who you want to be in college and potentially after college. The beyond can be implied in many pieces that are so strong that moralizing at the end is not necessary. But make sure to read the prompt and answer all components. • Tip 8. Use active writing: avoid passive sentences and incorporate power verbs. Show when possible; tell when summarizing. • Tip 9. Have trusted inside and impartial outside readers read your essays. Make sure you have no spelling or grammatical errors. Ultimately submit what pleases you. • Tip 10. Most importantly, make yourself come alive throughout this process. Write about yourself as passionately and powerfully as possible. Be proud of your life and accomplishments. Sell yourself!!!
  19. 19. Rebecca Brainstorming Tips • Ten Tips for Brainstorming Great Personal Statement Topics • Here are some creative ways to help high school seniors get started with writing active, engaging essays that truly communicate their stories to admissions officers. • Write your resume. Include everything you can from high school. Categorize your activities, community service, work, internships, athletics, arts, and more. Include descriptions of your leadership and initiative. Maybe in writing the resume, you will remember some key event or story that will turn into a great application essay. • Start first with three short activity paragraphs. In writing them, make them as interesting and exciting as possible. Start with a story. Keep them to 1000 characters. Maybe one of these can turn into a long. Shorts are easier to throw away than longs and very useful for the Common Application and supplemental essays. None will ever go to waste. • Make a culture bag to help think of your unique stories. Bring in artifacts of your ethnicity, gender, nationality, school, community, major activities, religion, and goals for future. These may spark a story, quality or way to connect your experiences to your culture and community. • Write a list of your most quirky features. I love Stanford and Harvard’s supplemental Letter to Your Future Roommate. These letters are often so much more interesting than the other essays. Makshya wrote about her fetish for making lists and provided her list. Every item from her list could turn into a great essay starter. Samples from her list include: “I have the ability to create and develop different fonts in my handwriting” and “One of my favorite words is “ubuntu,” which means humanity in Xhosa.” Start with a list of what makes you, you. Make that will spark an essay topic. • Look at sample essays posted on actual college websites. Connecticut College (http://www.conncoll.edu/admission/apply/essays-that-worked/) offers great samples as does Carleton College (https://apps.carleton.edu/admissions/apply/essay_tips/samples/) Johns Hopkins (http://apply.jhu.edu/apply/essays.html) even provides admissions officers’ feedback after each sample essay. Reading these, you can see the huge range of topics. At least, you can see how they all begin with an amazing in the moment first paragraph. You can do the same.
  20. 20. Rebecca Brainstorming-Page 2 • Read George Lyon’s “Where I’m From” Poem. http://www.georgeellalyon.com/where.html. Think of where you are from. Read the poem to get ideas to write your own and start an amazing essay. This may help with the fourth Common Application prompt. • Read past and present supplemental essay topics from other colleges. The University of Chicago has great supplementary essay topics every year. A couple of years ago, one topic was: “It Isn’t Easy Being Green” by Kermit the Frog. That turned into a great long essay for several kids I know who never applied to U Chicago. This year’s topics are great as well. Go to https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/apply/essays/ and read the topics. Tufts also has great prompts athttp://admissions.tufts.edu/apply/essay-questions/. Perhaps one of these topics will spark an idea. • Read sample essays from older kids at your school. But don’t copy. Just get ideas. You need to truly match your writing and style to the level of school. Admissions officers are begging for gripping, non-general stories. Give them a gift. • Follow Dr. Joseph’s Into, Through, and Beyond Approach. With your INTO, grab us into the story with a moment in time. That moment must reveal a core qualify. Then go into two levels of THROUGH. THROUGH 1 provides the immediate context of the INTO. THROUGH 2 provides the overall context. End with a BEYOND that is not sappy but powerful. Think of a metaphor that guides you and weave through your story and into your ending. • Great, great essays can take us through an event and weave in core features. Do not feel confined by any rules other than to engage and stimulate the admissions officers to see you come to life before them. And yes, you must grammar edit your essays. • Don’t be bound by five paragraph essays. Your story will guide the form of the essay. You can use dialogue, quotes, song lyrics, poetry. Let your story and message guide you. • Bonus Idea: Read what colleges recommend on their sites. University of California, Berkeley has great advice with a multi-tiered site: http://students.berkeley.edu/apa/personalstatement/index.htm The University of Michigan also helps with its tips for writing a great essay: http://www.admissions.umich.edu/drupal/essays/tips
  21. 21. Contact Us Dr. Rebecca Joseph: rjoseph@calstatela.edu Margit Dahl: margit.dahl@yale.edu Anya Good: agood@jkcf.org Valerie Gregory: vhg9t@eservices.virginia.edu

Editor's Notes

  • MAD: The header font sizes wander a lot. Slide #1 is size 32, this one 44, the next few 32, #5 is 40. I think they should be consistent. Last year we used 36, and then changed between 28 and 32 for the text size on the rest of the slide (I think depending on the quantity of text displayed).
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