Personal Statement and Application Session Transcript

October 16, 2020

Video from Brown University about the Application Process


Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Brown:

… (Referring to a personal statement essay) About a student or a student wrote about his grandfather, and it was very well written - lots of wonderful imagery and good punctuation and grammar. But by the end of the essay, I wanted to admit the student’s grandfather. Because it was all about him. And so, I didn't learn anything about the student in that essay. And so, in that case, although it was a great essay. It was not a great for this purpose.


Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Georgetown University:

Students who are creative or sometimes think that they should have a more visually appealing essay and so they'll create their essay to be in the shape of something that represents who they are. You know, it can be hard to read an essay that shaped like a chalice. Let's say. I've also seen students take the approach of a letter to a roommate or their presidential acceptance speech that they're going to give down the road, thanking Georgetown for the opportunity. I think sometimes the ploy can take over the essay and you can't get past the sort of the tool that they've used. And, you know, actually get to the students. So I think it's, it's better to write a simple heartfelt essay, then, to try to put too much time into crafting something that you think will stand out or catch our attention.



Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale University:

I kind of understand where students are coming from. When they say I'll let me mention all these different things, but I try to encourage students to sort of hone in on maybe on one experience. One extra curricular and use that as a lens through which we can get to see the way that you think the way that your world operates and also who you might be on our campus.


Lea Bingham: Okay, let me get out of that before the next video starts. Okay great, thanks.


Sorry, I couldn't see the chat during the video. So, I hope you were able to hear that well enough.


Alright, so what do they want to know what are they trying to find out when you through your essay. Well, they want to know what you're like what your talents your interest, your values, what you care about what you're passionate about.


Sometimes they'll ask you, why do you want to come to this particular university? And I'll talk a little bit about how you can approach that.


They are thinking about a big class and they want diversity in that class and they want people with different backgrounds and different interests and different focuses. So they're thinking about that big picture as well. So how are you going to contribute and fit in to that puzzle that they're putting together.


And they want to know that you're someone who loves to learn. That you're passionate about that. You're going to make the most of this opportunity.


And for those who might be going to graduate school or finishing a bachelor's degree, they want to know that you have a plan. So this is different from when you were applying maybe as a senior in high school, where have you said you had no idea what you wanted to major in that would be perfectly developmentally appropriate, right? But when you are halfway through a Bachelor's degree or you are ready to start a Master's degree program. They want to know that you have a really clear career plan. What do you want to do. It's okay if it changes, but you need to convince them that you have that plan in your application.


They're looking for you to reveal your personality. Be creative. Let them get to know you just a little bit through specific, concrete examples.


You don't want to be too wordy but you want to use all the space to help them see different facets of your personality.


I put a handout in the chat box for you that has more nuts and bolts of applying.


But one thing I always say is if there's a box, even if it's optional, write in it. So you don't want to not get into the school that you dreamed of getting into and wonder if it was would have made a difference to answer that optional question. But in each box you're trying to tell a different facet of who you are. And I think you heard this in the video be authentic, be yourself. Be honest and true to yourself. I think that's important and it comes through in your writing.


Some things to be careful of in your essay. Be careful of giving super personal information that might make the reader uncomfortable.


That doesn't mean minimize the obstacles that you've been through to get here, but think about how you want to approach that with someone that you've never met before.


Sometimes you might want to be political in your essay might be relevant to what you're talking about. Just remember to talk about it in a way that people who might have different views than you would still feel like you respect them.


I think humor is great in your application essay. I think if I had to read hundreds of application essay a year, I would long for the ones that made me laugh. But we all know when we tell jokes sometimes our jokes don't land, the way we expect. So just be careful and make sure that it's tasteful its kind to all people. And then it's really actually funny. So read it to someone else to see their reaction.


So they're always going to ask you questions like - Why this college? Why this major?


As far as the college that or university that you're applying to - I wouldn't say it's convenient. I want to go to NC Central because it's right down the road. And it's really near my house and it will be convenient. That comes across as like that you're not deliberately picking this school. It just happens to be the easiest one for you.


I don't think you have to worry about saying in education that you're going to make a lot of money and that's why you've chosen it as a major. I can tell you as someone who's taught for over 25 years. I don't know how anyone gets rich in this business.


But if you are approaching that college and major question or career, do a little research on the university's website. Some things I would be looking for our I'd go to the program's individual website. I'd be looking at who's on the faculty, what are their research interests, I'd see if there's some classes I'm interested in being able to take. I would look at what kinds of speakers have come in the last year.


Maybe people who you would love like you've read their book or you would love to read their books, you know, interesting people coming to the university.


So those are some things that you might research on the website itself. And you can weave those into an essay asking you why this university or why this major.


Connect this major to pass your passions in life. Like what really inspires you to do this. Because it's not an easy profession that you're choosing. You all know that.


You have to have a lot of drive to want to succeed in education, and it has to feed you in some way. Give you energy.


So think. And this is where that life journey will help you, concrete ways you've been working towards it demonstrate, you have a career goal that idea, you've got a clear plan.


Sometimes there might be weaknesses in your academic record and it's good to actually use your essay to talk about them. And the reasons are that they're looking at your transcripts, so they know that maybe you didn't do well in a key course or that you withdrew in a semester. So help them understand that in a broader context.


What, what was the challenge that that made that semester difficult for you or that class difficult for you?


Maybe you had a death in the family. They wouldn't know that unless you told them that, so help them understand that.


Show what you learned from the experience. So your spin on that is always how it made you stronger going forward. Be careful not to cast blame on somebody, even if someone was to blame for example, if you took a class with a bad teacher.


You know there are ways to say that without actually coming out and saying that.


Showing that you took responsibility. That you learned different ways to learn the subject matter and overcome the challenges that you might have had there.


These are just some general tips for writing that I bet you guys already know being specific and concrete. One thing that's hard about writing an essay, like this is needing to give examples, all the time.


Your examples can come from your life. It can come from things you've read. They can come from classes that you've loved or books that inspired you or moments with children that inspired you. So think about how you can use concrete examples for everything that you talk about.


The other things, I think I've already talked about. One thing I say is use strong topic sentences. That sounds like what is she talking about?


Often now that all applications are online. You've got a box where you're supposed to put your essay in and it's up to you to kind of organize your material because the box is kind of jumbling everything together.


So you want to make a clear beginning, middle and end in your essay and do that with strong topic sentences.


The hardest thing to me about writing these kinds of essays is writing that strong conclusion. Because you do kind of want to really leave them with a strong reason why they should accept you.


Or give you the scholarship or whatever it might be.


I always say get feedback from lots of people and proofread really carefully. This is going to be… this needs to be the best example of your writing. But I also want to equally say don't let people take what's interesting about your essay out of it.


Don't let them turn it into something generic and take all your personality and your uniqueness out of it. I think sometimes that happens when people give advice.


That's my theory about why when you go to commencement addresses and high school or whatever, often they're not very interesting. I think it's because some English teacher came along and advise people to take all of this…take all the fun stuff out of it. So that's my theory anyway.


And yes, you can have these slides afterwards. Yeah.


Thanks for your comments.


Alright, so I have just one really short essay. I have to say I have to confess - I chopped some stuff out of this just to make it really quick.


And what I'd like to do is just a little exercise with you all.


Is I'm going to read through it, just to get us through it quickly. I want you to be listening as an admissions person. I want you to be listening and thinking, why would I accept this person and what am I learning about this person as we go. Okay.


I chose this one because I think the structure here is one that could be easily adapted to lots of different positions. Because her structure here is just to tell you know.. how she became passionate about her subject matter and relate that to the challenges that she had as she was going through. So I'm just going to read through this really quickly. I'm sorry if it is a little boring. It'll just move us through at the same pace and then we can talk. Okay.


All right, let me move all those chat and stuff over a little bit.


Reading Essay –


I have a successful and rewarding career for a publishing company whose books help people learn. For me, that has been about as close to “right livelihood” as I have ever enjoyed. My children are grown with families of their own and a few hours away. I live in the country with deer and wild turkeys as neighbors. The ocean is a short drive away. What more could I want?


When I went back to college last year, it was for the purpose of refreshing my business skills. My plan was to get an undergraduate degree in business then proceed to an MBA. Along the way, something unexpected happened. While studying Western Civilization-Ancient World, I was struck by the role of women throughout ancient history. What happened that made women's roles so subservient? I was sufficiently intrigued to follow that up with Western Civilization course on the 1800s and Philosophy Comparative Western Religion. I discovered that some scholars claim that during the inquisitions and European Witch Hunts, 9 million women were killed. While the number is in dispute, it is agreed that this was one of the largest non-war related murder of people by their own in recorded history. Wow! And that was just one compelling insight that got me stirred up. (You did asked me to be brief!)


I couldn't put the topic down and the topic wouldn't let me put it down. It seems that around every corner I was finding books and articles that continued to stimulate more questions.


So many questions and so little time. I work between 40 and 50 hours a week with extensive travel. I was sufficiently challenged taking two college classes over the Internet. I just couldn't seem to find extra time to explore these issues as fully as I wanted to. It was becoming evident that it mattered more to me to ask the questions and look for the answers, then maintain my employment.


When I read the descriptions for major studies for women's studies (i.e.,  “provokes questions, discussions, disagreements and illuminating insights”) and critical social thought, I knew in my heart that this was where I was supposed to be. Here I could explore the questions that have made me restless and hopefully find some answers that would be relevant.


I've got to tell you that just because I got the wake-up call. I didn't immediately respond with. “Okay, let's go!” I struggled with fear and self-doubt and denial. But the call didn't go away. Rather, I found myself at work, while on hold, clicking back to the university's website for just another peak.


Now I have gratefully accepted the gift of the call. It's what I have to do. It's what I choose to do. What a treat to have something in my life that makes me feel so engaged, so passionate, so alive! It is so important that I will give up my security; I will give up my possessions (yet another prospective tag-sale about to be in progress!): I will give up my current way of being to plunge into this Sea of Uncertainty. Is the water cold? I don't know. Where will I end up? I don't know. For now, I'm secure in the belief that it's the journey, not the destination. I've always known what I needed to know, when I need to know it. And so here I am, knocking on your door and asking you to invite me to join you.



Lea Bingham: All right, so here's where I'd love to hear from you all. If you feel comfortable just turn your mic on. And if you'd rather just put it in the chat box or if that's better for the technology you have - that works too. What do you know about this woman from her essay so far?


Let's see. Yeah, there we go. Okay.


Let me get back the chat. Hang on. Hang on.


Technical issues here Zoom.


Yes, thank you, Wendy. Yeah, this subject, obviously touched her heart. And we, I kind of get the impression. She has a really big heart. Did you? Yeah.


How passionate she is. Yeah, it's really, that's the strongest thing that comes through. That this was super compelling to her, and she loved it. And I think that is exactly what admissions people want to hear. Right.


And Julia says well written.


Yeah, and she has little touches of humor that one about being brief and about also about having to have tag sales support herself.


Yeah, and I think Julia’s points is an interesting one about it is very personal. Right. She tells you about her personal challenges, her self- doubt and yet it didn't make us feel uncomfortable in any way. It actually kind of inspired me. Work harder to try harder.


And I love what Cheyenne said that she's focused not on the destination, but the journey.


Which I think is a way of saying - I love learning and I'm passionate about learning. I'm going to take advantage of every opportunity that's in front of me at this university.


I'm glad you guys enjoyed it.


Yes, very respectful and open.


Yeah, good.


All right. Let's see. I need to share. Let's see.


Um, Yeah, sorry I'm hitting buttons. I don't need to. All right.


Does anybody have any questions real quick before we go? I think we are about to run out of time here, but go right ahead.


Yeah. Her humility is nice. Yeah. (Reading the chat box.)


Any questions you'd like to ask or things that have come up? Did everybody get the handout?


Did that work for everybody that I put in the chat? Sometimes if you come in after I've uploaded it, it doesn't work. So I'm putting it up there again.


Julia Maston: You have a quick question.


Julia Maston: Yeah, will this the PowerPoint that you used be shared with us?


Lea Bingham: Yes, I believe so. So I gave it to the conference organizers and they will save it. I can probably just put it right here in the chat. Let me do that.


Julia Maston: That would be great. Thank you.



Lea Bingham: Awesome. Anybody else have questions.


Lea Bingham: Thank you. Julia. Yeah. Thanks for being here.


Thank you. Lucy.


Yakima Scott - Session Support: Awesome. If there are no further questions. Thank you. Leah for providing this information for us. We're going to direct you to your session three. So again, thank you all for the attending the session to. And again, thank you. Leah.


Lea Bingham: Thank you Yakima for facilitating really appreciate it. Good working with you.


Yakima Scott - Session Support: As well. Take care.


Lucy Rodriguez: Thank you.


Lea Bingham: Thank you. Bye guys.