In today’s episode of “College Admissions Real Talk”, Dr. Legatt talks about what officers look for in college essays and some tips to get your essay to stand out.

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VO: Welcome to College Admissions Real Talk with Dr. Aviva Legatt, a podcast for students seeking to get admitted to top-tier colleges. Each episode will feature an important tip for your college admission success, delivered with candor and love. If you’ve ever wanted to take a peek inside the mind of a college admissions officer, this is your chance. Have a question? Text Dr. Legatt at 610-222-5762. So, what’s your dream school? 


AL: Welcome to College Admissions Real Talk. This is Dr. Aviva Legatt, founder and Elite Admissions Expert at Ivy Insight and author of “Get Real and Get In”. Today, we’re going to be discussing what are admissions officers trying to gauge from reading college essays. From the personal statement, which is your main college essay oftentimes located on the common application, College admissions officers want to learn more about your character and life experience. You want to avoid making the personal statement a brag sheet or a retelling of your resume. Though you can choose to talk about an extracurricular activity that was especially meaningful to you. It’s more important, however, to focus on what you learned from that activity and how you grew than what you accomplished in terms of metrics. Regardless of what you choose to write about the purpose of the personal statement is to zoom in on one small aspect of your life and use that aspect of your life as a way to demonstrate your character. When you’re choosing a topic for your essay, remember that this is called a personal statement but you have to be careful about selecting the right story. You don’t want to select a story, for example, that dwells too much on sadness. You may want to write about something difficult such as overcoming adversity. For example, once I helped a student who face drug abuse and unfortunate death in his immediate family but you have to make sure you spend enough time, not just mired in this adversity and this challenge. But what you learned how you overcame this adversity and how it shaped your character. As I tell my students, American culture is very much focused on what I like to call the “Hollywood ending” to any story. Any story, no matter how difficult it is, you want to find the positive spin on the difficult situation. The positive spin in the college essay realm is something that you learn or something that you grew from as a result of whatever difficulty you experience. Now contrast the personal statement with the “why school” essay. This is the essay that helps the colleges understand why you want to attend and why you’re a good fit. The “why school” essay should make an emotional but also logically persuasive case for why you naturally belong. The way you make this case is through your deep knowledge of that college. Before you write this essay, you want to make sure that you’ve interacted with a college and an alumni in a meaningful way. You don’t want to simply go to the website and pick out a couple of talking points that the school highlights and write them in your essay. You need to show how the resources of that college perfectly aligned with your goals for studying there. You also need to highlight your demonstrated experience within your intended major. This helps the admissions officers to understand how you are prepared and why you’ve naturally come to the conclusion for what you want to study. Remember you may have many goals and ambitions for your areas of study. But, without the concrete evidence, it’s not going to be very convincing for you to highlight why you want to study a major that you’ve never been exposed to before. I see a lot of students making this mistake. You can definitely talk about what your interests are in general. But make sure that your applications and “why school” essay highlights the specific way in which still access the academic resources of the school based on your demonstrated strengths. Now, going back to the main personal statement, The first thing to do is to brainstorm some topics. Some topics are quite personal, but they don’t necessarily lend themselves well to a personal statement. For example, you don’t want to talk about a break up with a boyfriend or a girlfriend, a personal injury on the sports field or acing an exam. These topics, while commonly experienced by many teens, tend to lend themselves to a more cliched takeaway and don’t necessarily provide insight about who you are and what makes you tick. So, when it comes to writing about adversity, you have to think about what the college really wants to know. Number one: they want to know why this event inspires you so much. Number two: they want to know what you learned from it. Number three: they want to know how it will help you be a better student and how it’s made you a better person. In your storytelling, you have to be truthful and realistic and you have to show your authentic self. There are some experiences like a breakup that might be really important to you and a big part of your story, but they may not help you tell the right story for college. You have to also be careful about certain topics like mental health or violence because you don’t know who the audience is and how they will respond. You have to make sure to always speak from a place of personal experience and not overgeneralize. At the same time, don’t shy away from these important topics. If it would feel inauthentic not to share it and like you were missing something, You don’t want to betray yourself by choosing the wrong topic. The right college will see you for who you are and what you have to offer.


VO: College Admissions Real Talk is hosted by Aviva Legatt, edited by Stephanie Carlin, and produced by Incontrera Consulting. I’m Caroline Stokes and this has been your daily boost of college admissions insight. Have a question? Text Dr. Legatt at 610-222-5762. For more information on Dr. Legatt and Ivy Insight visit www.ivyinsight.com. And you can pick up Dr. Legatt’s book, “Get Real and Get In”, at major retail outlets across the world. Insight out.