Sage Studio

How to Get a Jumpstart on Writing Your College Essays Over the Summer

June 08, 2023 Sage Oak Media Episode 34
Sage Studio
How to Get a Jumpstart on Writing Your College Essays Over the Summer
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Coral Prendergast, HS School Counselor, shares tips, prompts, and templates juniors and seniors can use to get a jumpstart on writing college essays over the summer.  Her slidedeck is full of examples, links, and resources.

Click Here: Preparing to Write College Essays
Click Here: Counseling Connection June 2023 Newsletter

Thank you for listening to the Sage Studio podcast presented by Sage Oak Charter Schools and hosted by Tiffiny Webster, M.A.Ed. We invite you to follow the show and leave your review below. Sage Oak Charter Schools is an independent study nonclassroom based TK-12 personalized learning public charter school serving students in Southern California. Visit for more information.

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Welcome to another episode of the Sage Studio Podcast. I'm Tiffiny, and today we are joined yet again by our school counselor, Coral Prendergast.We always love when Coral stops by the show because she brings a ton of information with her, and today is no different. We are talking all about college applications and for some of our students, It is becoming a quick reality that they need to be ready to complete these college applications, which means that they're also going to be needing to complete those college essay questions. So, This can be really overwhelming. We understand it, and Coral is here to help. Welcome to the show,Coral. So glad to have you here today.

Thank you. Thank you. I'm so excited to be here. Okay, I'm going to share my screen. I put together a resource for the juniors to get them started for what they should be doing this summer to get a headstart on those college applications. College applications come up quickly during the senior year, and there's so much to do during senior year that some of these writing projects they can really be working on over the summer. So, This is what I wanted to focus on. How do you write that college application, all the different sections on it. And what I've done is basically just pulled resources. The College Essay Guy is really amazing. He does such great stuff. And he really spends a lot of time with his team interviewing different college admissions advisors. Going around to all of the different campuses and seeing what are they looking for, what do they want? And then he puts together these really great resources that are free for students. So I've packaged that all in a very easy to use way for our juniors so that they can get a headstart on that. So we'll start with a tracker. This is a really great resource for students to put together when you click on it. It's on the second tab at the bottom. They can go up here and go to file, make a copy, and basically this is a place where they can take all the different essays they're going to need to write. So different applications require different essays. You've got the personal statement, you've got the extracurricular. The"Why Us" College, why are you choosing this college? The PIQs for the UCs and all these different essays, and what this tracker can do is you can write all the different topics down, how many ward limits they have, what the dates that they're due, all of that. And then the goal would be to analyze the different scholarship and application essays and say, okay, how can I merge them together? How can I take these different topics and write one or two essays that can touch on all the different subjects, which will in one sense layer your essay to give it so much more depth than meaning. But also cut down on the amount of essays you have to write because you don't want to write, you know, 15 different essays. Oh, for sure. That's such a good tip, and I'm glad you brought that up because that's what I was wondering too, and I know that our juniors are probably thinking the same thing, like, how many different essays do I have to write? So, great tip. Yeah. Love. Write a couple more essays and then just draw from those. Love it. Right. A lot of them are going to overlap in meaning, so you can hit different topics along a bigger theme if you really plan this out well. So there's the tracker for you right there. I just wanted to let you know that there is the common app, which is used on a lot of out-of-state private schools here in California as well. And so if the school that you're applying to allows common App, use the common app because it's one application that goes to many different campuses, and so that's a much easier way to do it than applying to each individual school on their website. But within the Common app, you might have to dig a little bit to find out what those essays are. For scholarships also junior year, also sophomores. This is the time. Over the summer, you can be applying for a ton of scholarships. So I've included some free search engines here for scholarships that when you click on these, you create your profile, your demographics, and then it'll start to find scholarships that you'll apply for. So this is a great time. A lot of those are going to need the same type of essays and things like that as well. So just be using this at the same time. Scholarships as well as college applications would be helpful. A lot of kids will say, well, I don't know what to write about. I have so many different things, that mean a lot to me or that are important to me. I don't know what to write on what that topic should be. And so if you click here this is a list of different brainstorming activities and I've included videos and how-tos to do each one, but this is an overview right here of the different activities. And these are really great you guys just to get you. Brainstorming, like it says, there's the objects essence exercise, which is take a box and put 20 objects in it. That means something to you that represent a little bit of who you are. Maybe it's something that reminds you of home. Maybe it's something that reminds you of your grandmother or an obstacle that you've been through, but what's something that represents that as an object. And it's a really powerful exercise. This one, as well as the other ones that I'm going to talk about to really get you to dive deep. To write a good essay. You gotta dig deeper than that. You gotta bring the meaning of, what is that about? That, means so much to you. And so these are exercises that help you just sink outside of the box and start to gain those different layers of depth to your essay. When you start to look at an object, then you start to think about the stories, right, that go with that object, right? What you're saying is that these universities, these colleges, they want to hear your stories. They want to know what's been meaningful to your life, what's been impactful. What were some of those challenges that you were able to overcome, right? So using these objects to not just state you know, where you've been in your life and chronicle your life, but really to use them to tell the stories. Absolutely. And again, there's videos to walk you through this. But then we've also got the values. You know, looking at what are your core values? And then what are 21 details about yourself? Just randomly to think about, this could produce really great essay topics. What do you want the college to know about you? There's plenty of parts to the college application that are going to show how brilliant you are, right? Your transcript, your test scores all the different classes that you've chosen to take. The rigor. All of that speaks to how bright you are. And so I think a lot of times one of the mistakes kids make on their college application, Essays, like personal insight questions or their personal statement is that they're trying to to do it at a high academic level and stay very professional, if you will, in their essay. But really this is the part of the application where you get to show who you are. You get to show your personality maybe those corks or those interesting parts of you, your sense of humor, different things like that so they can really get to know who you are. They want to see your heart. They want to see your humanity. When you think about it, colleges are building in their freshman class a community. Right? Mm-hmm. They're accepting students in to be a little community, and they want to know what are you going to bring to that community? Who are you as a person, not just your list of achievements or your academics, your transcript and that kind of stuff, but who really at the core are you, and what are you going to bring to that campus to create that community of people that align with what their vision is? Mm-hmm. And what their. You know, statement is, and so I think it, you know, giving students permission to say, Hey, what are those stories about me? What is my childhood been like? What has my teenage years been like? Who, who am I at my core and what do I have to offer to your university? This is when you were talking about those challenges. This is a great exercise right here. The feelings and needs n you know, listing out your challenges and there's a worksheet and chart, but also what were the effects of that on you? What were your feelings? What needs did you have to have met during then? And what did you do? And learn about it. It takes it to that next deeper level so that it's not so surfacey and it really can get to the heart of who you are and what's important to you, which is really what the colleges want to see at the end of the day. I love this list because we. Sometimes, like you were saying, sometimes we leave out these things. We sound too professional. It, it lacks the emotion. Right. But it really, it's like what I'm hearing you say is they want to hear the stories, they want to know the feelings they want to hear the the lessons that you've learned thus far along the way so that they can start to see like, Hey, is this a resilient person? Is this a person that has creative solutions? Is this the person who can solve problems? Is this a person who can, you know, see a weakness, but appreciate it for its strengths and apply it in the right way? So I love this list because it really is going to, give our students permission in a way to tap into those lessons that they've learned and to share them. Absolutely. And I think so many times, you know, think you have to put yourself in the college admissions reader mindset, where they're reading thousands and thousands of essays every day. And if you're applying to a certain school that's in your realistic range, chances are everybody's transcript looks like you. Everybody's right. Everybody's got these high GPAs, everybody's got these great test scores, and so this is the part where you get to set yourself apart and really thinking about, okay, in my essay, how can I distinguish myself from other writers like. Really think of something different. When you write your essays at the end, maybe read over it and say, is anybody else going to have this essay? You know what I mean? That's good. Even with a like a small moment or something interesting, unexpected, but it was meaningful to you and into your life. That would be a good thing to write about, right? Yes. And, and how are you going to set yourself apart, you know? And I would be happy to read, if you guys want to send me things, I would be happy to read these and give you feedback and things like that. Oh, take her up on that. That is such a great offer. Having that extra set of eyes from someone who's an expert in this field. That's an amazing thing. So definitely do that. Yeah. Well I do this every year. So you start to say like, okay, I've already read this essay 10 times. Like not specifically, but you know what I mean, the same idea. So maybe if I'm reading it 10 times here at Sage Oak, they're definitely reading it thousands of times. So how are you going to make it different? What I've also done for the students is just broken down each of the very common essays that are, that you have to write with. There's videos here there's detailed what you should do, what you shouldn't do, sample essays and things like that. And then the"Why Us" essay, this is going to be very common."Why Us" is like, why this college? Why are you choosing us? Why do you want to go to our college? And again, I would just, you know, remind you that they're reading thousands and thousands of essays. So if you say, you are a middle size college in Southern California and you have my major, which is English. Well, that doesn't really tell them why it's that college, cuz that applies to probably a hundred different colleges. Right? We gotta get more specific. Go through, make sure your details are accurate from their website and their information, but also make it personalized. So for the UC application. You have to write four different essays. They're 350 words, and there's eight topics you can choose from. So out of the eight, you choose the four that you think you can write the best about, and I've included those topics here. UC will drop their new topics, if anything changes their new questions. August 1st, as well as common app drops everything August 1st. But from year to year, these really don't change very much. There might be a little tweak, but if you start writing these essays, you're pretty safe because the topics don't really change. I'm so glad you said that, because you know, as soon as our students hear, wait, the topics are changing, they may want to pump the brakes, but you really clarified that, that they don't change that much and, oh, By getting a headstart on writing your core draft now, then you can just edit and tweak things as you go along and you're updating the questions. The hardest part is, I think, going through some of these exercises that you are actually making easy by giving us the tools to go through and answer the questions thoroughly. Get all those details, get all those stories down, get all those lessons down, and then you'll be able to, to use all of that to answer all of these questions. So I'm glad you said that. Absolutely. You only have to pick four outta the eight. They are not going to change that much. So get working on it. And here's actual step by step for everything for the UCs if they need'em as well. So all of the resources are here. I would, if I were a junior, I would take one of these exercises every two or three days and just go through it. They take about 15 minutes. You could even do it as a family. You know, it's fun to talk about all these different layers and experiences that you've had, what's important to you, all those kinds of things. It's like a just, it's a self reflection kind of summer for you as a junior. So spend some time doing that, start writing those essays and if you guys need help, reach out. I'm here to help you. These are so great. When it comes to writing the essay structure, should it follow that traditional kind of thesis statement and introductory paragraph, or should it start with something like a little bit more creative? What would you suggest as far as structure? I would definitely say it does not need to be as formal as you're thinking for your structure. So this right here says an English essay versus the personal statement, you know, and what they're actually looking for. So it's. It's not where you're going to make your argument and then supporting details and your thesis is very explicit and all that kind of stuff. It's more personable than that. And so you really want to demonstrate your, values, skills, qualities, interests, those kinds of things. You can have a little catchy statement at the beginning for your story of, you know, I've always wanted to become this, or I was reading a sample essay that was really fun about how I always thought I should have been a pirate. And then he went through how he as an adventurous spirit and how he's always looking, to go on these different things. And he showed all of his different qualities, but by a, I should have been a pirate. And it's like that is an essay that's going to stand out compared to all the other kinds. You're going to remember, oh, that's the pirate guy. So trying to think of how you can relate all of the things you do or that you want or that are important to you to, to an overarching bigger theme that's vulnerable, that shows who you are, that has those I statements and things like that in it. So it's not as formal as you would write for your English class, I would say. Okay. I just want to reiterate that Coral h as done such an amazing job putting this presentation together, and although she's made it really simple and easy to understand and go through, don't overlook it and just think like, okay, great now I know what to do. Go back to each of these slides and really look at all the tips that she's giving you. She's really going to walk you through exactly what you need in order to successfully answer all of these different prompts. Go through the graphic organizers, take the time upfront now, and have that bank just ready to roll so that when you get the questions from the specific universities, you really are going to have so much to draw from. So this is great Coral. Thank you. Yeah, absolutely. With every single type of essay. There's the detailed for from college essay guy of what to do, what not to do. There's sample essays again, and then he also has videos where he's explaining, so whether you want to read through it, whether you want to watch it, whatever it is, it is laid out really specifically for you. There's a lot of help and resources here and samples and things like that, and that's for each of the different types of essays and exercises. So definitely take advantage of this, and I'm working all summer, so reach out to me as well. I would love to help you. So good. Okay. I'm going to have you come back to us just for one minute, and I want to see when our students are looking for these resources, where's the best place for them to access this slideshow? Okay. So, everything is listed on the counselor classroom. Do you want me to share my screen and show them that? Sure. Yeah. Let's do a walkthrough. All right. So we'll do a quick walkthrough. If you go to the Sage Oak website and you go up here to resources, we're under the counseling corner and you can just click on the first one. Counseling and Mental Health. We have a virtual classroom, Ms. Ally and I. So if you click right here, it's going to take you to our virtual classroom. This is where you can request an appointment with us. You can see all the parent workshops. We've done all the quick tips and resources for students. Our classes are groups, all of that kind of stuff. But this would be under the parent workshops because that's how I. Did this. So you've got college applications here, college match here, financial aid information here, and along with some other like mental health or other resources, workshops that we've done. So this'll be up with the recording probably by the end of today. Excellent. Okay. So good. All right. I think that is going to really provide a lot of clarity for our students and for our parents, so that, you know, you can take the overwhelm out of this process, right? So definitely go and check out the website. Definitely go through these workshops, follow the different steps, click on the links. I mean, you've given them so much. It's a great, great training, and it's a great resource for, for really getting a jumpstart on writing those essays and, and making sure that you are producing high quality essays that the colleges are going to read and colleges are going to love. So thank you Coral for again, putting together an amazing training for us. We love it. You are so welcome. Thanks for having me. Always. All right, so again, if you want to find those resources from Coral, you can head over to our website,, go under the counseling tab there, and you will find all of the trainings available for you there. All right. Thanks Coral. As always, we appreciate you and we can't wait to see you on the podcast again soon.