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 Upvote Go Back #Harvard-Mentr #Admission-Process #Essay-Review #Extracurriculars #Harvard
 Mentee:
I was wondering if you could give me advice on admission to Harvard (and other top schools). I've been working on my common app essay and I keep rewriting it from scratch, completely unsatisfied. Now, I'm worried that my topic is not at all what colleges are looking for. I'm also concerned about my extracurriculars - whether they are good enough and which to include and in what order. It's so overwhelming! Let me know if you have any advice or want more specifics. Thanks!
 Mentor:
Thanks for reaching out. There are plenty of ways to write a common app essay. For my essay, I focused on a really small and seemingly insignificant moment in my life and described how it illuminated a certain facet of my personality. I think that the best advice I can give is to not be too cliche. Admissions officers read thousands of essays in a very short amount of time. If you can find a way to stand out, either by adding humor or by picking a topic or that is truly unique to you, it will help personalize your essay and make it stand out amongst the thousands of other applications. In terms of extracurricular activities, don't worry if they're good enough! The most important thing is whether the activities you participated in are meaningful to you and how they shaped the way you think, gave you experience as a leader, etc. I ordered my extracurriculars based on how important they were to me. For example, I did community service throughout high school at an elderly establishment and I really enjoyed it, so I put that near the top. I also did soccer and track and I was captain a few times, but those weren't necessarily highlights of my high school experience so put those closer to the bottom. If I remember correctly there are also only 10 spots or something for extracurriculars, so I made sure to pick a mix of activities to include (i.e. some community service, some leadership role things, some hobby type things like sports) so that I looked well rounded. I hope that helps a little bit! If you want to send me some specifics in terms of activities or common app topics or whatever feel free to do so. I might be able to give you a more solid and less vague answer :)
 Mentee:
Thanks for you advice. That was extremely helpful. For my common app essay, I was thinking I needed to talk about something seemingly insignificant in order for it to stand out. But that just didn't seem right. Instead, I chose to describe the moment where my older sister first showed any kind of emotion after months of abuse from her ex-boyfriend. I had left school to go help her prepare for a civil court trial (to get a restraining order). I attended every meeting with her attorney, the police, the cyber forensics detective, and even the actual 3 hour trial. She had been so cold and distant and seeing her finally break down reassured me that she was still human and she would heal. I learned a lot about depression, abuse, and the legal system on that trip. It truly made me a stronger person and it gave me a personal perspective of how deeply the littlest manipulation from one person could severely harm another. And at only 16, I was still able to help her and be her best friend in the most awful circumstances. It's a bit of a downer but it's the single most important event of my entire high school career and a big part of my identity now. (And if you were curious: the guy got expelled from their university and my sister is completely back to normal. She will probably be getting engaged soon to the sweetest guy)
 Mentee:
Thanks for you advice. That was extremely helpful. For my common app essay, I was thinking I needed to talk about something seemingly insignificant in order for it to stand out. But that just didn't seem right. Instead, I chose to describe the moment where my older sister first showed any kind of emotion after months of abuse from her ex-boyfriend. I had left school to go help her prepare for a civil court trial (to get a restraining order). I attended every meeting with her attorney, the police, the cyber forensics detective, and even the actual 3 hour trial. She had been so cold and distant and seeing her finally break down reassured me that she was still human and she would heal. I learned a lot about depression, abuse, and the legal system on that trip. It truly made me a stronger person and it gave me a personal perspective of how deeply the littlest manipulation from one person could severely harm another. And at only 16, I was still able to help her and be her best friend in the most awful circumstances. It's a bit of a downer but it's the single most important event of my entire high school career and a big part of my identity now. (And if you were curious: the guy got expelled from their university and my sister is completely back to normal. She will probably be getting engaged soon to the sweetest guy)
 Mentee:
As for my extracurriculars... I will just list them one by one and tell me what you think :) 1. Volunteer at local hospital, I visit and assist the patients and run other errands for nurses (8 hr/wk since May) 2. Babysitter for my younger siblings - my dad works and my mom has health problems and church responsibilities (15 hrs/wk since freshman year) 3. Math tutor for those with and without learning disabilities (2 hr/wk since freshman year) 4. Religious youth group leader, I conduct meetings, plan service and recreational activities (5 hr/wk since this summer) 5. Volunteer camp counselor for 8-15 year old girls (70 hr/wk, 1 wk/yr, 2 years) 6. Member of a regional award-winning school choir (since freshman year) 7. Clubs. One where we sat, played games, and talked with the special Ed students during lunch. Another where we made hygiene and play kits for children in Ecuador. 8. Track and Field (only 9, 10)
 Mentor:
That looks awesome. I like your common app idea because it shows that your experience has helped you grow a lot. Just make sure that you really focus on yourself in the essay. With only 650 words, it might be tempting to tell a really in depth story about your experiences and the entire situation, but the most important part of your essay is when it focuses on you and how that experience changed you. Also your extracurriculars look really good. I think that they show a really good mix of volunteerism, leadership, and fun hobbies. It's also really good that you've been doing a lot of your activities since freshman year. It shows dedication and genuine interest in what you do. From my experiences with Harvard, I genuinely believe that the school looks for kindness in its applicants, and the service that you have been doing really highlights that.
 Mentee:
Yes, you hit it right on the nail! That's the hardest thing for me: focusing on myself. To start off my common app I wanted to open with sitting in the cyber forensics detective office (he was retrieving deleted texts). It was pretty hilarious because he had artwork all around of Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Yoda, Han Solo, etc. dressed in 1800s clothing. I was actually freaking out. But then when I went outside to find my sis, she was crouched over, sobbing her eyes out because she realized her ex didn't love her and probably never did. I hadn't seen her cry in several months, so it brought over a lot of emotion for me as well. Then, I want to transition my essay into my insight and growth after explaining the need-to-know of the general situation. I think I realized how important other people are to me and how much I want them to be happy. Just today at the hospital I was discharging a teenage Chinese girl out of maturity...except she had no baby. She was crying her eyes out and I barely made it back to the basement before getting emotional myself. It's just a part of who I am now to share the pain of others. But thanks for your encouragement about my extracurriculars! I don't feel they are particularly impressive, yet I did enjoy doing them, so that's something! Also, you are very sweet and optimistic and I appreciate that you take the time to do this.
 Mentor:
That sounds like a great way to structure your essay. I started mine off with a really detailed and descriptive scene and then transitioned into explaining how that particular moment in my life defines who I am. It's really awesome that your experience was able to illuminate a certain aspect of your personality. Be sure to focus on why that empathy matters. It's one thing to say "hi I'm empathetic and I care about others" and it's another thing to explain why that empathy matters and how it has made a difference in your life and the decisions you make (like choosing to spend more time volunteering or something). Also, it might feel a little cheesy when you're writing it, but as long as your essay is genuine and heartfelt I think the admissions officers will be able to relate to what you're saying. Doing something clever in your essay is also really great if you can. Humor is always good (although if your topic doesn't have anything humorous surrounding it then don't force it) or even a witty last line that connects back to the opening paragraph. Also thanks haha. You seem really awesome too! I'm sure any college would be lucky to have you and I hope the whole application process goes nice and smoothly haha
 Mentee:
You are seriously the best! Thanks for all that feedback. I'm feeling so much better now and motivated to perfect my common app. One more thing: would I be disadvantaged not to have any SAT IIs? I only took the ACT.
 Mentor:
I took math 2 and US history because a lot of the schools I applied to required two SAT IIs but if they're not required then it shouldn't be a disadvantage
 Mentee:
The only schools that it seemed required for were MIT and Georgetown, but I could be wrong. I could probably study and take Math 2 and Bio E in October, but I'm not planning to apply to either of those schools. I'll double check with the schools I'm applying to... Thanks!
 Mentor:
Yeah that would be a good idea. I just took them because I took APUSH and precalc and didn't really need to study for them
 Mentor:
But definitely double check
 Mentee:
That is the smart thing to do! Which is why I'm more reluctant to take them now. I did calculus last year, so it's been since sophomore year that I did the stuff on the math 2. 😂 But last semester I did IB Biology Year 1 which was completely focused on evolution and ecology. So, maybe it wouldn't be too bad to relearn that info. However, I am retaking my ACT next month, so that's top priority (I got a 32 in June).
 Mentor:
Nice! And yes definitely focus on that