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Facebook Live Recap and Bonus Questions: The College Essay

In Case You Missed It, Here's A Recap Of My Recent Facebook Live Q&A: The College Essay—Plus Bonus Questions I Didn't Get To Answer Live!

The college essay is a critical part of the application process and it's only natural to have questions about it. And although sitting down to write it can be daunting, the college essay has the power to make or break your application. In my recent Facebook Live Q&A, I tackled your most important questions surrounding the college essay. Watch the video below and scroll down for a few BONUS questions that I didn't get a chance to answer live!

  • Can you write about an academic experience if the essay also discusses the student's personal growth and not just the experience itself?
  • How can you use a part-time job and other experiences outside of extracurricular activities at the school to your advantage? 
  • Are there any topics that you should stay away from and how many essays should you write prior to selecting an essay to submit?
  • We live in a fairly competitive area and many students get help with their essays from a tutor. If we don't hire someone to help my daughter with her essays I'm worried that she'll be at a significant disadvantage. Do you find this to be true? If so, how can we level the playing field, so to speak?
  • Should the essay be focused solely on one event, or can it also reference other points in the applicant's life that relate to the story being told?
  • Is focusing on a medical condition even with a positive spin a good approach? Does mental health still have a stigma?
  • Is shorter better?
  • Is a community service story the key thing all letters must contain? Or is it a capsule of what your child's goals and personality are about?
  • Should a student write about living with a family member with an illness?
  • Is it true that a college essay or personal statement shouldn't be about your weaknesses but about your strengths?
  • How do admissions representatives feel about learning differences? Should students refrain from talking about learning differences in their essay?
  • How much time is actually spent by admissions personnel reading each essay? What is reviewed first? Essay or transcript?
  • It has been said that the college essay should be on an experience/interest/topic that is not apparent from reading the student's application. Would it be acceptable to write about an event/experience that was discovered while participating in an extracurricular activity/job/service trip that is already listed on the application?
  • What is a standout essay to you? Do certain types of essays get old?
  • After giving up a sport due to injury would it be best to bring up why it ended rather than have them think interest was lost?
  • What do colleges want to know about an applicant? Mindset? Goals? Passion?
  • What things are bad ideas to include in an essay? What is overdone? What is too "out there?"
  • Who would you have proofread your child's essay?
  • Should a student use the essay to explain any perceived shortcomings on the application?
  • Does highlighting important points in the essay help the admissions counselor in reading it?
  • How do you feel about essays that discuss social issues and a student's relationship to those issues?
  • How does one overcome coming from what seems like a privileged background? 
  • Do you recommend students use their essay for scholarship applications essays, too? Or at least a version of their application essay?
  • Regarding the Common App prompts is there one that is overdone?


1. Any tips for a good essay?

Lots of tips in this video and check out my blog. Use the following tags: #college essay, #college essays, #college essay tips. I've written a ton of blog entries on the college essay and they're all on I also have a few videos on this topic on my other site:

2. What can you write about if you do not participate in many extracurricular activities? 

Doing things for the family counts too. Summer experiences can also be listed on the same list. It's not about how many activities the student has; it's about the depth of their commitment. Quality over quantity.

3. Can an essay help students get admitted to a college even if their SAT scores or GPA were low?

Yes! For a college that values the essay, it can help. If you are applying to a highly selective or very selective college, the grades and SAT scores need to be extremely strong. A great essay won't help if the student's "numbers" aren't there. But for a selective college that values the essay, it can make a big difference.