Today is a special interview with Cara Kalf, a college essay coach, where we discuss when you should start college essays, college essay topics, finding inspiration to write, and much more!

Kamila
Hey college kids.
Kamila
Welcome back to my podcast.
Kamila
Who cares about College in today’s episode I’ll be interviewing Cara so if you could introduce yourself.
Cara Kalf
Hi, I’m Cara Kalf.
Cara Kalf
I’m a college essay coach.
Cara Kalf
I work with students one on one to help them develop their best college application essays.
Kamila
All right so.
Kamila
Start with like my first.
Kamila
Question something I’ve always wondered.
Kamila
How, in your opinion, ’cause you aren’t an admissions officer, but you’ve been in this field for quite some time?
Kamila
So how much weight do you think the essays, both the personal essay and the supplementals carry in the overall college application?
Cara Kalf
As you say, I.
Cara Kalf
Don’t come from an admissions background, but my suspicion and from.
Cara Kalf
What I have read they weigh.
Cara Kalf
Reasonably well, they’re not going to overcome an overall mediocre application, but if you have an application that is going to stand up among a crowd of solid applications and you’re a school that’s looking for the best candidates, and you’ve got a line up.
Cara Kalf
Of 100 students and you can only take.
Cara Kalf
75 of them.
Cara Kalf
I think the essays are going.
Cara Kalf
To weigh pretty heavily.
Kamila
OK, OK, so now let’s actually jump into the process here.
Kamila
When and how?
Kamila
Should you begin your essay so like when junior senior year and then where do you even start when you begin your at least your personal statement?
Cara Kalf
Great question.
Cara Kalf
You want to start early but not too early.
Cara Kalf
Junior year, you’re busy and you’re.
Cara Kalf
Also still a junior, you’re growing and developing and living life and becoming a better writer all the time, so I don’t actually recommend starting until summer after junior year.
Cara Kalf
But at that point, you really want to start thinking about it.
Cara Kalf
If you can be on top of it by early July, that’s fantastic.
Cara Kalf
If you can work on it.
Cara Kalf
In August, that’s great.
Cara Kalf
September you can get it done on time.
Cara Kalf
But you’re getting more stressed.
Cara Kalf
Because now it’s fall, and now you’re trying to do.
Cara Kalf
All of your.
Cara Kalf
Application work, so the earlier the better up to.
Cara Kalf
That beginning of summer point.
Kamila
And then where do you think people should start with their essay?
Kamila
Like should they start with the essay generating?
Kamila
Should they choose a prompt?
Kamila
Like where do you?
Cara Kalf
That’s a great question.
Cara Kalf
The first thing they want.
Cara Kalf
To ask is.
Cara Kalf
In an ideal world, what would I like the college to see about me?
Cara Kalf
What do I want to project with this?
Cara Kalf
Essay and from there they want.
Cara Kalf
To look for a story.
Cara Kalf
How can I show that?
Cara Kalf
Who am I?
Cara Kalf
How can I demonstrate?
Cara Kalf
That and the common app prompts are actually really good for that.
Cara Kalf
A lot of prompts that.
Cara Kalf
People create for essays can lead to kind of boring essays, but I think the common app prompts are pretty great because they’re designed to elicit a story of growth.
Cara Kalf
You want to show this is who I was and this is what I tackled and this is who I became and that’s really what the prompts are looking for.
Kamila
And something I’ve always wondered.
Kamila
Is it’s gonna vary person to person, but how long do you think or do you recommend a person a person should spend on their personal essay and then also the supplemental essays like do you think you should dedicate like a a good month to like revising and creating?
Cara Kalf
Yes I do.
Cara Kalf
I know that there are students who try and turn it out in a week or a weekend.
Cara Kalf
There are people who do boot camps.
Cara Kalf
I don’t do boot camps because I don’t believe it works.
Cara Kalf
It’s not true to the process you want to give yourself enough time to generate ideas.
Cara Kalf
Maybe not like some of your ideas.
Cara Kalf
Maybe find one that you do like.
Cara Kalf
Work with it, develop it, edit it.
Cara Kalf
And it has to be 650.
Cara Kalf
Words or less, but in an ideal world you’re.
Cara Kalf
Going to get as close to.
Cara Kalf
6:50 as possible.
Cara Kalf
Because that’s all the space you get.
Cara Kalf
To show who?
Cara Kalf
You are and so you want to make good use.
Cara Kalf
Of it, and so you want to.
Cara Kalf
Write a lot.
Cara Kalf
And you’re probably going to end up having to cut it back to fit.
Cara Kalf
In that space so.
Cara Kalf
I think a.
Cara Kalf
Month is a.
Cara Kalf
Reasonable goal I.
Cara Kalf
I have students who work like with me once a week over maybe a.

Six week
Cara Kalf
Period for that personal statement and it depends.
Cara Kalf
On the writer.
Cara Kalf
If if a student struggles with writing, it’s going to take them.
Cara Kalf
A little bit.
Cara Kalf
Longer ironically, if a student doesn’t struggle and it’s.
Cara Kalf
Really a great writer.
Cara Kalf
Sometimes that takes longer.
Cara Kalf
Also, because those students are more wrapped up in the process and how.
Cara Kalf
Exactly it should.
Cara Kalf
Sound and they’ve got bigger ideas and symbolism that they want to work in, and that takes more editing.
Cara Kalf
Right, and so it does depend on the writer.
Cara Kalf
But yes, you do want to give it enough time.
Kamila
And then a question you wanted for me to ask, which is actually a really good question.
Kamila
How do you stop procrastinating?
Kamila
Thing and not use the deadline as your like, motivation for writing your personalized ’cause.
Kamila
Let me tell you.
Kamila
The early decision, or whatever early action deadlines just ended and like seniors.
Kamila
I have classes with a bunch of seniors and like they were all stressing ’cause they all procrastinate and we’re trying to get it done the day before.
Cara Kalf
Yes, such.
Cara Kalf
An important question and I see it happen every year.
Cara Kalf
I have students calling me October 15th, can I?
Cara Kalf
Still apply early decision.
Cara Kalf
I wouldn’t is the honest answer at that point, which I usually tell them, and sometimes they take that advice from.
Cara Kalf
Sometimes they don’t, but the answer to how do I stop procrastinating is to number one. Feel confident about what you’re doing and #2. Give yourself the time for it. So when I say feel confident, here is.
Cara Kalf
What I see happening with.
Cara Kalf
And writers you.
Cara Kalf
Are accustomed to writing things for school that realistically you probably don’t want to write, and So what happens in your mind?
Cara Kalf
Is a win.
Cara Kalf
Is getting it right the first time?
Cara Kalf
If I have.
Cara Kalf
A paper to write for English class and I don’t want to write it the first time.
Cara Kalf
I don’t want to go back and rewrite it either, right?
Cara Kalf
And in addition, you’re often in AP classes.
Cara Kalf
You’re preparing for essay Tees and acts, and essay tests where you really don’t get a second chance.
Cara Kalf
You’re learning to think of successful writing as writing at once and being done.
Cara Kalf
And that’s not the way real writing happens in the real world.
Cara Kalf
It’s a useful skill.
Cara Kalf
But when it comes to you, for example in.
Cara Kalf
Essay test let’s say you read.
Cara Kalf
Huck Finn in English.
Cara Kalf
Class you’ve probably been discussing that book in class out loud for two weeks, and then you have to go in and you have to.
Cara Kalf
Write an essay test about it.
Cara Kalf
Well, all the idea.
Cara Kalf
Is that you’re going to be writing about or right at the?
Cara Kalf
Front of your mind.
Cara Kalf
You’ve just been discussing them, so you can.
Cara Kalf
Reasonably produce something like an essay.
Cara Kalf
With all the ideas that you’ve.
Cara Kalf
Just been thinking about and.
Cara Kalf
Essentially that’s been your prewriting.
Cara Kalf
Your class discussion is your prewriting, but when you go to write your personal essay, none of that has happened.
Cara Kalf
And so when students set themselves up to think I should be able to sit down and write about myself, ’cause hey, it’s.
Cara Kalf
Just me, it’s my life.
Cara Kalf
They’re setting themselves up to fail.
Cara Kalf
And that’s why they procrastinate because they’re waiting for the time to sit down when it’s just going to come out right.
Cara Kalf
And that’s not going to happen.
Cara Kalf
So the way you stop procrastinating is by telling yourself you know what.
Cara Kalf
I’m just going to sit down for 15 minutes right now, and I’m going to write down some ideas of what.
Cara Kalf
I might want.
Cara Kalf
To write about.
Cara Kalf
You might hate.
Cara Kalf
Those ideas great.
Cara Kalf
It doesn’t actually spend anymore time to spend 15 minutes writing down.
Cara Kalf
A bunch of ideas that you end up saying.
Cara Kalf
Those are all terrible.
Cara Kalf
I’m going to throw them out then to spend 15 minutes staring at the screen waiting for inspiration to strike.
Cara Kalf
And usually what happens is.
Cara Kalf
That 15 minutes or 30 minutes, something valuable does come out.
Cara Kalf
Of it and so.
Cara Kalf
Then you’ve made forward progress.
Kamila
So I really want to go off of that.
Kamila
It’s just one other like.
Kamila
Really random question.
Kamila
I want to ask.
Kamila
So what is the difference between the common app?
Kamila
Prompts and the coalition app prompts like there’s no difference.
Cara Kalf
Great question.
Cara Kalf
So they there are two different sets of prompts for the two different applications.
Cara Kalf
Both of them have an option of write whatever you feel like writing, so you can always use one for the other.
Cara Kalf
In my personal opinion, I prefer the common app prompts because I think that they’re better targeted.
Cara Kalf
To those stories of growth that I believe.
Cara Kalf
Tools really are interested in.
Cara Kalf
And so I find that the coalition app prompts are not targeted in that direction, and I don’t think they elicit as interesting of an essay.
Cara Kalf
So I usually.
Cara Kalf
Encourage students to write a common app and then send it under the anything goes prompt, but there are actually 2, the first one and the third one almost entirely.
Cara Kalf
Overlap between the two application systems, so there’s also that.
Kamila
OK, so back on what we were saying.
Kamila
So how do you?
Kamila
I wouldn’t say like your life is boring, but when you haven’t had anything and you know you’re sitting there and inspiration is not striking, you don’t know what to write about.
Kamila
And you’re like, oh, you know I go to the farmers market with my parents every weekend.
Kamila
But is a college going to find that interesting?
Kamila
So how do you like find a topic when you don’t have?
Kamila
When something doesn’t like, click immediately.
Kamila
If something significant doesn’t click immediately.
Cara Kalf
Great question one.
Cara Kalf
Of the things that we think about our brains.
Cara Kalf
Is that they’re?
Cara Kalf
Kind of like a filing cabinet and we can just kind of go in there and check on things or like Google like.
Cara Kalf
OK green, tell me about a time that I.
Cara Kalf
It turns out your.
Cara Kalf
Brain doesn’t really.
Cara Kalf
Remember things in that way?
Cara Kalf
The second common app prompt asks about learning from failure, and that’s one where your brain is pretty quick to go.
Cara Kalf
Oh yeah, I have failures.
Cara Kalf
Yeah, let me tell.
Cara Kalf
You all about.
Cara Kalf
Them, it’s kind of tragically never forgets them right, but there’s another one that asks about challenging a belief.
Cara Kalf
And you can think surely.
Cara Kalf
I’ve challenged a belief at some point in my life.
Cara Kalf
But your brain doesn’t remember things under the heading challenged a belief, right?
Cara Kalf
You have to think it through.
Cara Kalf
You have to go through multiple steps to get to that story.
Cara Kalf
So one thing I will recommend is is heading over to my website and checking out.
Cara Kalf
My guided tour of the prompts that does.
Cara Kalf
Break them down in that exact way.
Cara Kalf
To say OK, what is it properly looking for what is?
Cara Kalf
The best way?
Cara Kalf
To attack this.
Cara Kalf
But I think it’s really great that you ask that question like what if I don’t think my life is that interesting?
Cara Kalf
True story.
Cara Kalf
No one thinks their life is that interesting.
Cara Kalf
Thing your life only seems average to you because it’s yours.
Cara Kalf
It’s the one you’ve been living with for 17 years now, right?
Cara Kalf
So you think OK, what’s interesting about this, but you still have different experiences than other people.
Cara Kalf
The other pieces that you have, stories that in combination.
Cara Kalf
Are different, so maybe you did a volunteering project.
Cara Kalf
And lots of people have done volunteering projects, but maybe you have a personal connection to this.
Cara Kalf
Or maybe you also were living with your grandmother who was dying of cancer at the same time as you were doing this project.
Cara Kalf
And that’s really what made it your story.
Cara Kalf
What really?
Cara Kalf
Makes us different.
Cara Kalf
Is how all of our different pieces come?
Cara Kalf
Together, because there’s almost no story, we can tell, that’s really only our story.
Cara Kalf
And honestly, if there were, that would be kind of sad, wouldn’t it?
Cara Kalf
That’s why we read literature because it tells.
Cara Kalf
Us that we’re not alone.
Cara Kalf
And so when we.
Cara Kalf
Go looking for that great story that’s going to.
Cara Kalf
Make us stand out to the colleges.
Cara Kalf
We’re really asking the impossible.
Cara Kalf
We are not fundamentally different from all the people around.
Cara Kalf
US, but that’s OK.
Cara Kalf
We can still.
Cara Kalf
Be different by being.
Kamila
That is such great advice.
Kamila
I was worded so beautifully and another question I have was like when you’re.
Kamila
Creating your story.
Kamila
I I think I feel like this is.
Kamila
Such a.
Kamila
Standard thing that most people don’t think about it.
Kamila
Even people who know a lot about like what I should.
Kamila
Should you know, quote, unquote, should and should not include in my essay, it always seems like it’s supposed to end on some sort of positive or like inspirational and like I may not be there yet, but I’m still improving.
Kamila
I’m getting there.
Kamila
Or I did get there and I’m so proud of myself.
Kamila
Is that like necessary?
Kamila
Like have you ever seen essays where it didn’t end on a positive or inspirational and it did work out in the end?
Cara Kalf
That’s a really interesting question.
Cara Kalf
Uhm, I always tell my students to try to resist the temptation to end with that sort of.
Cara Kalf
And that’s why I know everything is going to be OK or and that’s why I grew so much, I like to call it putting a ribbon on it, tying that essay up.
Cara Kalf
With a sweet little bow.
Cara Kalf
At the end we are so.
Cara Kalf
Tempted to do.
Cara Kalf
That and it.
Cara Kalf
Really is not always the best way, but should it have an uplifting?
Cara Kalf
And yes, I think it should.
Cara Kalf
There should be a sense that.
Cara Kalf
That story of growth.
Cara Kalf
We talked about that character arc if you will.
Cara Kalf
You are your own main character in your essay, and you’re growing and changing.
Cara Kalf
And at the end you are still a work in progress, but there’s a sense that like something came of this experience that was really interesting.
Cara Kalf
Or valuable and I.
Cara Kalf
Was I was.
Cara Kalf
Amazed I, my eyes were opened or I learned something.
Cara Kalf
Or here is how I am now that’s different.
Cara Kalf
Uhm, so maybe we would see.
Cara Kalf
You doing something at the end that we wouldn’t have seen you doing at the beginning.
Kamila
And another thing, so I have like listened to like some college like essay, coaches and such.
Kamila
And one piece of advice I heard was in your essay.
Kamila
Every single sentence should be irreplaceable, like the essay could not do without that sentence.
Kamila
Is that true, or is it OK to provide some like context to make sense?
Kamila
Do it.
Cara Kalf
That’s really interesting, I’ve never heard.
Cara Kalf
That before, but I’ll tell.
Cara Kalf
You I’m a huge fan of the elements of style by Strunk and White, which, if you’ve never read it and you want to become a better writer, you should just go out and find at the library.
Cara Kalf
It’s a very thin little book and.
Kamila
That book, yeah.
Cara Kalf
It’s amazing right?
Cara Kalf
It’s amazing and it’s one of the things that it says is omit needless words now.
Cara Kalf
That’s exactly what that advice was in.
Cara Kalf
Longer form omit needless sentences.
Cara Kalf
The question is simply.
Cara Kalf
Do you know which ones are the needless ones? That’s the real trick. There should never be fluff in a college essay because, again, we’re talking 650 words.
Cara Kalf
I can’t tell you how many students have gone.
Cara Kalf
I can’t cut another.
Cara Kalf
Thing when they were at you know 85.
Cara Kalf
Because this is their life story.
Cara Kalf
That’s important, but it can’t all fit, so you definitely don’t.
Cara Kalf
Have room for.
Cara Kalf
A sentence you.
Cara Kalf
Don’t have room for a word that’s not valuable.
Cara Kalf
You’re not going to use it.
Cara Kalf
I don’t know.
Cara Kalf
I would love if I had like all sorts of free time that I don’t have to go back through student essays.
Cara Kalf
And actually do a percentage of the number.
Cara Kalf
Of adverbs that are used.
Cara Kalf
Write adverbs.
Cara Kalf
You don’t remember what an adverb is.
Cara Kalf
You’re gonna want to.
Cara Kalf
Go back and check that friends.
Cara Kalf
It’s really useful to know when you’re looking at editing your piece, how?
Cara Kalf
Do I know what?
Cara Kalf
To cut well, first thing on the chopping block is always the adverbs.
Cara Kalf
Those are the things that describe how we did something like.
Cara Kalf
I quickly walk, walked across.
Cara Kalf
The room.
Cara Kalf
Probably didn’t need.
Cara Kalf
To know that, or I really want to go.
Cara Kalf
To your school probably don’t need that.
Cara Kalf
Really, you know you want to go or you don’t.
Cara Kalf
So we don’t have room for a single.
Cara Kalf
Wasted word, let alone a wasted.
Cara Kalf
Sentence, but the way you framed the question, I definitely want to address that because it sounded like you heard that as well.
Cara Kalf
OK, everything has to be.
Cara Kalf
Like moving the plot forward or something like.
Cara Kalf
That not so.
Cara Kalf
Every sentence has to have an important meaning to who you are and what the reader needs to understand in order to see your growth.
Cara Kalf
So you don’t want to spend any words just like fluffing like.
Cara Kalf
You know, I don’t know like describing.
Cara Kalf
More of you.
Cara Kalf
Know the curtains in the auditorium were.
Cara Kalf
You know, deep red and heavy velvet, like we probably know that because it’s pretty much recording every auditorium look like around the world, but OK, probably across the country.
Cara Kalf
I can’t really generalize to around the world, but you don’t want to leave out all description in all detail either because the reader cares about that.
Cara Kalf
That’s how they believe it’s your story.
Cara Kalf
The more details you eliminate, the less.
Cara Kalf
It feels like you that goes back to.
Cara Kalf
That how do I stand out?
Cara Kalf
It’s not going to sound like a believable story if you don’t include enough detail to make the reader believe you were there.
Kamila
And another thing I’m just going off like random questions here so.
Kamila
Another piece of advice I heard is your the colleges have already seen what extracurriculars you’ve done.
Kamila
They’ve seen the time commitment where you’ve actually accomplished in those extracurriculars, and they and from the people I’ve talked to.
Kamila
They’re like.
Kamila
The essay is an opportunity for you to show just a whole another part of you.
Kamila
It’s like the most personal thing that you can submit to.
Kamila
A college so.
Kamila
Do you believe that you should just not mention your extracurriculars in the essay?
Cara Kalf
I’m glad you asked.
Cara Kalf
I’m going to go out on a limb and I’m.
Cara Kalf
Going to say.
Cara Kalf
I disagree with that advice.
Cara Kalf
And here’s the only reason why your extracurriculars.
Cara Kalf
Your activities are where you live your life.
Cara Kalf
So if you are.
Cara Kalf
Passionate about science bowl and you spend a ton of time there.
Cara Kalf
Why shouldn’t you tell story about something that happened within the context of Science bowl? Because 650 words.

Is a whole.
Cara Kalf
Lot more than 150 characters.
Cara Kalf
You haven’t said everything you did in that activity. You’ve said as much as you would fit in a resume like a line and a half about like responsible for taking attendance and raising $30 per student for right. Like tiny little things, whatever like.
Cara Kalf
You did as part of this experience.
Cara Kalf
You have to summarize in the tiniest space possible, so if you did something really amazing like you founded a club or a chapter of a club at your school and rounded up 30 people and got them involved and taught them how to do something and went to do some competition, that’s you showing your leadership.
Cara Kalf
Absolutely, you should.
Cara Kalf
Great about it.
Cara Kalf
It doesn’t mean you have to, but.
Cara Kalf
From what I’ve seen, there are great essays out there that are.
Cara Kalf
More like poetic, personal reflective and they get into, you know, they might tell a single story about an afternoon going for a walk by the lake Timmy.
Cara Kalf
That’s a real risk if you’re not a really great writer.
Cara Kalf
That essay is going to fail.
Cara Kalf
A really great writer.
Cara Kalf
And most students know.
Cara Kalf
Where they fall although.
Cara Kalf
I will say.
Cara Kalf
From what I’ve seen, really great writers often.
Cara Kalf
Think they aren’t as good as they are?
Cara Kalf
They’re because they’re very highly attuned to everyone else around them, and how competitive everything is.
Cara Kalf
But if you’ve seen that you tend to do well in English class and you think I’m pretty creative, I want to go for.
Cara Kalf
Something unusual, go for it.
Cara Kalf
Don’t like, don’t try to come do something different for the sake of being different, but if you really.
Cara Kalf
Feel called to.
Cara Kalf
Tell a story like.
Cara Kalf
I just feel like this is going to show them who I am this afternoon that I spent antiquing with my grandma.
Cara Kalf
It’s going to be this amazing metaphor for.
Cara Kalf
Go for it.
Cara Kalf
But if you’re not a really confident.
Cara Kalf
Later telling a story with a really clear plotline.
Cara Kalf
Is going to be.
Cara Kalf
More successful for you.
Cara Kalf
And if you live your life in your extracurriculars, don’t be afraid of mentioning them.
Cara Kalf
Yes, they know you do it, but that doesn’t mean they know.
Cara Kalf
How you do it?
Kamila
And on that note, are there any topics that you absolutely say like don’t write about it?
Kamila
Like some people you know the very general sports?
Kamila
I say do you think there?
Kamila
Are any topics that?
Kamila
You should definitely avoid unless you can like.
Kamila
Absolutely make it like unlike any other sports essay, the college is going to read.
Cara Kalf
Yes, that’s a really good question also because.
Cara Kalf
I’ve also heard that advice and.
Cara Kalf
I would say the only.
Cara Kalf
Things I would avoid are things that go back.
Cara Kalf
To your earlier.
Cara Kalf
Question things that can’t end on a positive note.
Cara Kalf
If you have a story where you’re really.
Cara Kalf
You know, I’ve just been.
Cara Kalf
Really struggling to figure out who I want.
Cara Kalf
To be and I just don’t know yet.
Cara Kalf
And it ends with a feeling not of like the world is full of possibility, but.
Cara Kalf
Like I’m just still struggling with that.
Cara Kalf
I don’t think that’s presenting a side that you really want to present.
Cara Kalf
But when it comes to topics.
Cara Kalf
I feel like it’s really unfair to say to students don’t write about mission trips.
Cara Kalf
Don’t write about sports.
Cara Kalf
Don’t write about this.
Cara Kalf
Don’t write about that.
Cara Kalf
What if that’s your life?
Cara Kalf
Does that mean that all of those people their life doesn’t count?
Cara Kalf
Does that mean that a student who loves soccer should not get to write about what they love, but a student who loves to paint?
Cara Kalf
Because that’s maybe slightly more unusual that they can write about like that doesn’t sound fair to me, and that’s when I go back to that layering advice that I think is really important.
Cara Kalf
No, you’re not applying.
Cara Kalf
I mean, maybe you aren’t.
Cara Kalf
Maybe you’re being recruited for soccer, but if you’re not being recruited for soccer, you know that you’re applying to.
Cara Kalf
School not a.
Cara Kalf
Soccer team so.
Cara Kalf
It’s not about how amazing you were.
Cara Kalf
As you know, the Star player on your.
Cara Kalf
Team, but it’s about maybe.
Cara Kalf
How your teammates relied on you or how you became like the Big Brother or big sister of all the freshmen on your team or about how you learned to work harder than you thought.
Cara Kalf
You could work.
Cara Kalf
To be successful, those are all legitimate stories.
Cara Kalf
It just can’t be a how.
Cara Kalf
I won the big game.
Cara Kalf
For my team, that’s not the story they’re looking for, but a different angle within that topic to me.
Cara Kalf
That’s fair game.
Kamila
And now, like yo perspectively specifically, what are of the essays that you have helped students with.
Kamila
What can you like?
Kamila
Tell us some of the best you think like we’re like the best, most unique, or the most memorable essays that you’ve helped students, right?
Cara Kalf
Oh, that’s a good question I would love.
Cara Kalf
And my hesitation is actually just that I don’t necessarily have permission to share those stories.
Cara Kalf
I actually, as a policy, don’t even share student essays with their parents unless they give.
Cara Kalf
Me permission to you.

Oh wow.
Cara Kalf
Because that’s the trust that we have.
Cara Kalf
Right, one of the reasons somehow.
Cara Kalf
Parents prefer their students to work with an essay.
Cara Kalf
Coach is because it can cause a lot of tension between teens and their parents.
Cara Kalf
When parents want to know legitimately, are you getting on with this, or are you finishing your essays?
Cara Kalf
Is it coming out well?
Cara Kalf
But then when they go to give feedback, the teens like oh come on mom, this is you don’t know what you’re looking at.
Cara Kalf
You don’t know what it’s supposed to be like, and there’s a lot of tension and bad feelings that result.
Cara Kalf
And so often they will say OK, why don’t?
Cara Kalf
We outsource this to a professional.
Cara Kalf
Then we know that it’s getting done and we know that the team is.
Cara Kalf
Getting an adult perspective.
Cara Kalf
But it doesn’t have to be my.
Cara Kalf
Perspective ’cause we know that.
Cara Kalf
Team doesn’t want moms.
Cara Kalf
Perspective, so that’s
Cara Kalf
I will always make sure that I’ll say, OK, you know, are you checking with your parents or you letting them know how it’s going?
Cara Kalf
But I never tell parents what the topic is.
Cara Kalf
Uhm, for that reason, so I don’t exactly feel comfortable sharing other people stories, but.
Cara Kalf
I will say.
Cara Kalf
The best ones.
Cara Kalf
Are just always the most personal.
Cara Kalf
The ones that are willing to share, not things that are inappropriate but just things.
Cara Kalf
Feelings that work.
Cara Kalf
True, maybe even unexpected experiences that were.
Cara Kalf
Hurtful that they got through.
Cara Kalf
So, uhm.
Cara Kalf
Yeah, and stories where they realize things about themselves that they didn’t expect.
Cara Kalf
I love telling students that the act of writing the essay is in some ways of prompt 5 experience.
Cara Kalf
That’s the common app prompt.
Cara Kalf
5 something that gives you a new understanding of yourself.
Cara Kalf
For others, I find that my students are consistently.
Cara Kalf
Being surprised by themselves in the process of writing the essay, they realize things about stories that happened.
Cara Kalf
Like, oh, I didn’t know that.
Cara Kalf
That’s how I felt at that time.
Cara Kalf
Now looking back, I realized that that’s why I did that.
Cara Kalf
Or that’s how I was feeling.
Cara Kalf
Or that’s why I reacted that way and it gives them.
Cara Kalf
A new perspective on how they are now in relation to that which is.
Cara Kalf
Always so cool to watch and it’s really.
Cara Kalf
A privilege to watch.
Kamila
Yeah, and if you can answer this question, which I think you kind of did of the students you’ve worked with, which prompt do you think that the essays you’ve seen fall under?
Kamila
Like of the common app, can you share that?
Cara Kalf
Yes, that I can’t.
Cara Kalf
My favorites are two and five.
Cara Kalf
Two is the one that asks about failure or challenge.
Cara Kalf
And five is that one that says an accomplishment, event, or realization that leads you to a new understanding of yourself?
Cara Kalf
For others, they’re both really targeted to stories of growth, and as a close follow up on that prompt.
Cara Kalf
Three is the one about challenging a belief, and that also leads to great stories of growth.
Cara Kalf
Prompt one is always.
Cara Kalf
A solid one, but it really.
Cara Kalf
Prompt one is a fine choice for those specific students that it’s perfect for prompt one is this one that says do you have a background identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful your application would be incomplete without it, and those are often stories of personal tragedy.
Cara Kalf
Lifelong challenges like health or learning disabilities.
Cara Kalf
Things that might fall under challenge but not a one time specific challenge like prompt.
Cara Kalf
So prompt one stories work great for the people who have prompt one stories, but if you.
Cara Kalf
Don’t A2 or A5 is really.
Cara Kalf
My my favorite.
Cara Kalf
Because, yeah, that is exactly what we’re looking for.
Cara Kalf
How do we see you grow?
Cara Kalf
How do we see you become who you are now?
Kamila
And I just when I was interviewing this girl from Duke, she shared what her essay was about.
Kamila
Like she obviously didn’t share it word for word, but she did share like what she wrote about and I want to get your like opinion on it.
Kamila
Do you think it was risky?
Kamila
Do you think it was you think it’s really interesting like you’ve never seen anything like it before, so?
Kamila
She is.
Kamila
Her in her.
Kamila
Household they were never really religious.
Kamila
She had no like really connection with God or anything and she said when she was going on like a walk or a run one day and afternoon she was just kind of like lying down in the grass.
Kamila
And she decided to.
Kamila
Like pray and she didn’t know what she was doing.
Kamila
She didn’t know.
Kamila
If she did it correctly, she didn’t know.
Kamila
Who or what she was praying to.
Kamila
Yeah, but she’s like I gave it a try and she’s not like religious now, but she’s like it’s something I gave a try something like I challenged myself to do I guess or something.
Kamila
I just took a chance at it right and I didn’t know.
Kamila
What I was.
Kamila
Doing so, I want to get your opinion.
Kamila
Does that sound like?
Kamila
Really risky to write about?
Kamila
Does it sound like really interesting like you’ve never heard anything like it?
Kamila
’cause I thought it was like I was like.
Kamila
Whoa, what an interesting topic right there.
Cara Kalf
Yes, so here’s what it.
Cara Kalf
It obviously worked for her, so I love getting it right from that perspective.
Cara Kalf
I would say I wouldn’t call it risky because of the religious aspect.
Cara Kalf
I do think that you have to be careful how you frame that.
Cara Kalf
Depending on what schools you’re applying to, just in terms of.
Cara Kalf
Like being aware that.
Cara Kalf
People will read differently into religious experiences, but like I’ve had students write about.
Cara Kalf
Some religious retreats before and how much it changed them and I.
Cara Kalf
Think that that’s fair to write that story.
Cara Kalf
I would have to.
Cara Kalf
Read the actual.
Cara Kalf
Essay to really appreciate, I think because what is happening there is all what I would call inside story.
Cara Kalf
So right when you’re reading any kind of essay or literature.
Cara Kalf
You’re always looking at an inside story and an outside story, right?
Cara Kalf
So if you take like finding Nemo.
Cara Kalf
Most people recognize that one, at least we have the fish who has to swim the ocean to find his missing son.
Cara Kalf
Right, that’s the outside.
Cara Kalf
Story Sun is missing.
Cara Kalf
Must go find him.
Cara Kalf
The inside story is this.
Cara Kalf
Fish is particularly anxious and not good at going out of his comfort zone.
Cara Kalf
And he has.
Cara Kalf
To completely leave his comfort zone or.
Cara Kalf
He’s never going.
Cara Kalf
To find his son so he has to overcome that inside in order to succeed.
Cara Kalf
At that outside story.
Cara Kalf
He is never going to find his son if he does not overcome.
Cara Kalf
This internal barrier.
Cara Kalf
So when you’re thinking about your essay a.
Cara Kalf
Good question to ask.
Cara Kalf
Is is this inside?
Cara Kalf
Story or outside story or ideally.
Cara Kalf
So the the thing that made me think that one was risky was it was entirely inside story and so she’s probably a really good writer to be able to effectively convey what happened inside because she challenged a belief on the inside and then.
Cara Kalf
Acted that out through internal prayer, right?
Cara Kalf
So we don’t see necessarily a change.
Cara Kalf
She went with it, she tried it out.
Cara Kalf
It didn’t work for her, so she thought it through so she had to be a great writer to make the story come across so that the reader understood.
Cara Kalf
Oh yeah, she really did that.
Cara Kalf
That’s really how she.
Cara Kalf
Was thinking and feeling.
Cara Kalf
And so I don’t think the topic was.
Cara Kalf
Necessarily risky, but if she couldn’t convey in a believable way how she really felt, then it would be risky.
Cara Kalf
OK, so I want to go.
Kamila
Into some other topics now.
Kamila
So when you have people.
Kamila
That’s the question.
Kamila
Should you have anyone read over your essay?
Kamila
Like if you’re not going to get a professional like coach to read over it, should anyone read over your essay?
Kamila
And if yes, who should read over your essay?
Cara Kalf
Oh, great question, OK?
Cara Kalf
Yes you should.
Cara Kalf
But not too many people.
Cara Kalf
One of my students had the marvelous realization this fall that every time I show this to someone, they’re going to have an opinion about it.
Cara Kalf
And I said yes, that is.
Cara Kalf
Exactly what you need to understand.
Cara Kalf
It’s kind of like the idea of telling people what you’re going to name your child before you have the child.
Cara Kalf
If you tell them before it’s settled, they’re going to think that they get an opinion on it, but if you tell them this is my.
Cara Kalf
Child Penelope they’re going to.
Cara Kalf
Say oh how nice that’s it, that’s her name.
Cara Kalf
You don’t get an opinion on it.
Cara Kalf
It’s done, and so if.
Cara Kalf
You show people your essay you are going to get an opinion and that.
Cara Kalf
Is a risk, but I would think that you would want at least one trusted person, I would say.
Cara Kalf
If you have a.
Cara Kalf
Great relationship with your parents.
Cara Kalf
That’s marvelous.
Cara Kalf
Beat what your parents or your siblings have is.
Cara Kalf
A great awareness of you and they might be able to give you.
Cara Kalf
Really good perspective that you’ve lost on well, but you haven’t even shown them.
Cara Kalf
How creative you are.
Cara Kalf
Or you haven’t even shown them how much work you put in that night, when, where maybe you were thinking.
Cara Kalf
Oh, I didn’t think anyone would care about that.
Cara Kalf
And your family knows those details.
Cara Kalf
And they can remind you, and that’s valuable if you have that kind of relationship.
Cara Kalf
Uhm, the risk with getting feedback is always that you might have someone or someone.
Cara Kalf
Who have more opinions about the quality of writing than maybe they should have?
Cara Kalf
Uhm, most parents are pretty aware it’s been a long time since I’ve applied some of them even have older siblings.
Cara Kalf
Or, you know, the parent has an older child and they can say it’s been a long time since my older child applied.
Cara Kalf
I don’t really know what we’re looking.
Cara Kalf
For and, that’s a great.
Cara Kalf
Level of self awareness.
Cara Kalf
You really have to be.
Cara Kalf
Careful when you get feedback because a personal.
Cara Kalf
I say.
Cara Kalf
Is a personal essay.
Cara Kalf
It’s not like any other kind of writing, and so if you have a parent who’s a lawyer or a business person and they’re a great adult writer who does this?
Cara Kalf
You know, right?
Cara Kalf
Briefs or emails or what have you that?
Cara Kalf
Doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to see what’s working in a personal essay.
Cara Kalf
The other thing is that if you.
Cara Kalf
Have some.
Cara Kalf
Someone tried to give you feedback.
Cara Kalf
Often when people edit, if they’re not really trained or practiced as an editor, they can tend to make changes to their own ear preference, and you want to sound like you you want to sound like.
Cara Kalf
You at your best.
Cara Kalf
But the voice should.
Cara Kalf
Be coming through as your own, and if you get feedback from other people, they might tend to change something.
Cara Kalf
To how they would have said it as opposed to how you’re trying to say it.
Cara Kalf
And so you need to kind of be careful.
Cara Kalf
Like should I let?
Cara Kalf
Them like oh, I’ve got some grammatical errors here.
Cara Kalf
I’ve got some mechanical errors.
Cara Kalf
It’s good to get that feedback or to have someone say this part is kind of unclear, I’m.
Cara Kalf
Not sure what you mean here.
Cara Kalf
But you want to be careful about letting people change a sentence or something like that because they say this is just confusing, say.
Cara Kalf
It like this.
Cara Kalf
Unless it’s you know an English teacher you’ve had.
Cara Kalf
At least a year and you really like them and you know you trust like OK, they’re pushing in a good direction.
Cara Kalf
This is really more what I.
Cara Kalf
Meant to say.
Cara Kalf
Don’t let someone push you to change it to.
Cara Kalf
How they would have expressed it?
Kamila
So I have one more question.
Kamila
Before we quickly move on to like supplemental essays and the couple questions I have.
Kamila
About them, so I have a friend and he’s a senior.
Kamila
He’s applying to college and he knows I do this and like podcasts and he’s like OK.
Kamila
Can you like give me advice?
Kamila
Can you look over as?
Kamila
My idea, good da.
Kamila
Da da da da right, and he was he, gave me like a few essay topics he’s like.
Kamila
Can I get your opinions on these?
Kamila
And I looked through that I was.
Kamila
Like oh, this one is good.
Kamila
I like this about this.
Kamila
One and then another one involved another person that was really important to him and the advice I gave to him is.
Kamila
Yeah, you can include another person, but remember it’s your personal statement so don’t make the story about them.
Kamila
However, I don’t know how to do that.
Kamila
So what is an effective way to put like someone really important someone really impactful in your story yet still make it your own?
Kamila
Like I heard the example where this admissions officer read over this boys essay about?
Kamila
He’s like grandmother and how he loves her so much and at the end he was like great essay.
Kamila
But now I want the grandmother to come to the school.
Kamila
I don’t want him to come to the school, so how do you successfully incorporate another person without making it about them?
Cara Kalf
That’s a really.
Cara Kalf
Excellent question as one reason.
Cara Kalf
I don’t love the new common app prompt.
Cara Kalf
For which is about.
Cara Kalf
Gratitude essentially, and it’s asking about, you know what is something, someone else.
Cara Kalf
Has done for you.
Cara Kalf
And I saw that as a really big red flag for students who don’t like to talk about themselves, which they’re actually aren’t.
Cara Kalf
Lot of students out there.
Cara Kalf
Who are really shy and don’t see themselves as spotlight kind people and don’t really want to talk about themselves and they can get caught up in stories of other people.
Cara Kalf
The honest truth is, it’s not my favorite topic for that.
Cara Kalf
Reason because it.
Cara Kalf
Really is hard.
Cara Kalf
To write about someone else without letting them.
Cara Kalf
Steal the show if you’re talking about.
Cara Kalf
A story of growth like.
Cara Kalf
This is actually an example I read years ago.
Cara Kalf
It was not a college essay, it was a middle school essay, but it was about a grandparent dying, but it was a grandparent.
Cara Kalf
With whom the student had?
Cara Kalf
Not a very good relationship up until the point where the grandfather started dying and then it was like, OK, we had this last chance to reconcile, and so that was the story of growth for the student.
Cara Kalf
They reconciled with this person, who was not a positive influence in their life up to that.
Cara Kalf
Point before he died.
Cara Kalf
That was a story that worked for a personal essay. When you write about another person, it really is hard to pull off. I don’t know that it ever remember that 650 words, always 50 word. It’s so short.

600
Cara Kalf
If you’re going to express something really critical about yourself, it really should be focused on you.
Cara Kalf
You and something that happened to you, and so if it becomes.
Cara Kalf
You know the relationship you had with any sort of mentor figure.
Cara Kalf
Unless there’s another literature moment.
Cara Kalf
If you pay attention in literature, the mentor figure is never there at the end, right?
Cara Kalf
They cannot be there or the.
Cara Kalf
Hero can’t have his or her big moment.
Cara Kalf
The hero will not grow.
Cara Kalf
Into being a hero, if the mentor.
Cara Kalf
Is still there.
Cara Kalf
If you look back over, you know all the literature you read.
Cara Kalf
You think that can’t be true, but you’re going to start paying attention.
Cara Kalf
You’re going to look for it like, oh, that’s where the mentor dropped out.
Cara Kalf
That’s where the mentor died.
Cara Kalf
That’s where the mentor had to move away.
Cara Kalf
They’re never there at the end, and so if you’re writing an essay about a mentor and how important they were.
Cara Kalf
You they can’t be there the whole essay.
Kamila
Alright, alright, that makes that makes sense.
Kamila
That is very true in literature now.
Kamila
That you actually go back and.
Kamila
Think about it.
Kamila
Alright, so I do have a couple questions.
Kamila
About supplementals so.
Kamila
I think when I went to Uchicago, the chore they were telling me about.
Kamila
They’re really abstract prompts, you know, like, what would you do with the gallon of mayonnaise?
Kamila
Stuff like that.
Kamila
And then there’s like Stanford.
Kamila
One of their problems.
Kamila
Most of the prompts like pretty normal.
Kamila
But then there’s one that’s like.
Kamila
Tell us what is 1 historical event that you want?
Kamila
You would want to go back to and witness or whatever.
Kamila
So when you have such unusual supplementals, do they genuinely just want to know your honest answer, or do you need to lay some sort of like meaning behind it?
Kamila
Like what do they expect?
Cara Kalf
Great question.
Cara Kalf
I love the University of Chicago.
Cara Kalf
Essays they’re so fun to read.
Cara Kalf
I believe, and I will say this as not a Uchicago alum.
Cara Kalf
From the.
Cara Kalf
Other side of the lake.
Cara Kalf
I went to northwestern so.
Cara Kalf
Can’t sleep.
Kamila
I I love that school.
Cara Kalf
I can’t say.
Cara Kalf
Anything too nice about you Chicago.
Cara Kalf
It’s just it goes against my principles.
Cara Kalf
But no, really I.
Cara Kalf
Do love these Chicago prompts.
Cara Kalf
I think they’re really.
Cara Kalf
Creative and fun, and so my instinct when I read them.
Cara Kalf
Is to say they.
Cara Kalf
Are looking to see you be.
Cara Kalf
Smart and creative right?
Cara Kalf
We already know that it’s a highly competitive school, and so they’re asking questions that obviously have no right answer, right?
Cara Kalf
What’s so easy about pie?
Cara Kalf
I don’t know what is so easy about pie.
Cara Kalf
There’s not one correct answer, so you can’t be looking for that, and sometimes they say to students.
Cara Kalf
And I, I hope no one would miss.
Cara Kalf
Hear this, but.
Cara Kalf
If you look.
Cara Kalf
At the Uchicago prompts and you think I have no idea what they are talking about.
Cara Kalf
Is new Chicago.
Cara Kalf
A great fit for you.
Cara Kalf
I don’t mean are you smart enough?
Cara Kalf
To go there.
Cara Kalf
There are many other schools of comparable quality.
Cara Kalf
That don’t ask that kind of question, keep in.
Cara Kalf
Mind if you get into Uchicago.
Cara Kalf
Your roommate will be the kind of person.
Cara Kalf
Who thinks it’s interesting to talk about what would happen if in the 13th century you sailed off the edge of the world?
Cara Kalf
Or what you do with the gallon of.
Cara Kalf
Mayonnaise you see?
Cara Kalf
Like so this is the.
Cara Kalf
I believe that to some extent highly competitive schools ask difficult supplements to remind you when you’re applying.
Cara Kalf
That this is going to be a difficult school.
Cara Kalf
Don’t apply here if you don’t want to.
Cara Kalf
Be challenged because it’s.
Cara Kalf
Going to be.
Cara Kalf
Challenging, so they want you to be aware of.
Cara Kalf
But they want to get a sense of who you are and they want you to get a sense through that.

They are.
Cara Kalf
And then yes, they want to.
Cara Kalf
Make it more difficult to apply so that people don’t just apply.
Cara Kalf
For the sake of trying it out.
Cara Kalf
You have to really be committed to apply to these schools.
Cara Kalf
You have to have taken the time to write the essay, but with U Chicago I.
Cara Kalf
Think that they’re.
Cara Kalf
Looking for a sense of internal logic in your answer, but obviously there’s not a correct answer, and if it’s you know what.
Cara Kalf
Historical then yeah, an honest, interesting answer.
Cara Kalf
The challenge is is this person well read or at least culturally aware enough to have an answer that’s maybe not just like.
Cara Kalf
I don’t know something really.
Cara Kalf
Like recent or really the moon, right?
Kamila
Landing on.
Cara Kalf
Exactly like OK, something important that happened.
Cara Kalf
I don’t know.
Cara Kalf
Signing the Magna Carta.
Cara Kalf
OK really why?
Cara Kalf
Why is that interesting to?
Cara Kalf
You go for it like.
Cara Kalf
So I think, yeah you.
Cara Kalf
Want to be honest, I think.
Cara Kalf
That some of these.
Cara Kalf
Like is it University of North Carolina that asks what was the most interesting thing about last Tuesday?
Cara Kalf
They’re hitting you with these questions that theoretically aren’t actually easy to make up an answer to.
Cara Kalf
Because that way you can give something that’s really personal and authentic.
Cara Kalf
What’s the most interesting fact you’ve learned from research?
Cara Kalf
That’s another.
Cara Kalf
I think it’s you know UNC that asks.
Cara Kalf
That or maybe Maryland.
Cara Kalf
Done a lot of applications this fall.
Cara Kalf
Uhm, but that’s again.
Cara Kalf
It’s an example of.
Cara Kalf
Doesn’t matter what you pick, as long as it’s something that you couldn’t have just known.
Cara Kalf
You had to have learned from research.
Cara Kalf
Because it’s unusual.
Kamila
All right, so kind of going on the other end of the spectrum.
Kamila
So safety schools are obviously like not highly competitive.
Kamila
It’s safe because it’s supposed to be easy to get into, but like, and obviously they’re not going to have as many interesting supplementals as like University of Chicago, but there is like a trend in, like less selective schools denying.
Kamila
Over qualified applicants ’cause they’re like they’re definitely not coming here and they do to some extent.
Kamila
You don’t care about their statistics as well, so when you have these supplementals for safety schools and you’re just applying because it’s a safety school, how do you make it seem genuine to them?
Kamila
’cause you they likely know that most students applying here are only applying because of a safety.
Kamila
So how do you make it not seem like you’re applying because it’s the safety?
Cara Kalf
That’s a really good question, I’ve.
Cara Kalf
Heard about that, and it’s appalling because.
Cara Kalf
What if they really didn’t get in anywhere else?
Cara Kalf
What if that really was the best school for them?
Cara Kalf
I think the key if the.
Cara Kalf
Question is, why do you want to come to our school which is 1?
Cara Kalf
That you might get at a.
Cara Kalf
Safety or a reach?
Cara Kalf
I tell students.
Cara Kalf
You really just have to mean it.
Cara Kalf
There’s not a trick to.
Cara Kalf
I mean, you can go out and read like marketing books about how to make yourself sound believable as you’re not.
Cara Kalf
Sincere but really the better trick is to make yourself actually believe that you want to go there because it’s not a true safety if you don’t want to go there.
Cara Kalf
A safety isn’t just.
Cara Kalf
A school you.
Cara Kalf
Can get into.
Cara Kalf
It’s a school that you want to go to that you can get into.
Cara Kalf
If you would be completely unhappy at that school.
Cara Kalf
Take a gap year.
Cara Kalf
Take some Community College classes and apply to your dream school again next year.
Cara Kalf
Because you still have to pay for the safety school, you still have to go to all.
Cara Kalf
The classes you.
Cara Kalf
Still have to do the work, so don’t pay.

OK.
Cara Kalf
So when you’re writing, why do?
Cara Kalf
You want to go to this school.
Cara Kalf
Really fall in love.
Cara Kalf
With that school.
Cara Kalf
Go to the website and find out what they have to offer that makes them special and really talk about how much you look forward to being part of the community.
Cara Kalf
And part of.
Cara Kalf
The you know.
Cara Kalf
Whatever Society of Women Engineers Club that they have there and how much you look forward to watching the women soccer on weekends.
Cara Kalf
And cheering on your roommate and you know, like get into the spirit of it, really believe yourself, because if you.
Cara Kalf
If you think like.
Cara Kalf
I’d love to get into these rich schools, but if they didn’t come through I could be happy at the school.
Cara Kalf
Stay with that feeling and write it.
Kamila
All right, so we’re coming to an end here.
Kamila
I do this with like the college students I interview, but I guess I could do it with you as well.
Kamila
What is like the one piece as people are applying now or you know, starting their regular decision applications?
Kamila
What is the number one piece of advice you want people to keep in mind?
Kamila
No matter which path they decide to take, no matter who they decide to like, show their essays to what is the one piece of advice someone should keep in mind.
Cara Kalf
Let yourself right.
Cara Kalf
And then edit.
Cara Kalf
Don’t expect it to come out right the 1st.
Cara Kalf
Time take your time and you will be.
Cara Kalf
Happier with your results.
Kamila
Alright, thank you so much for coming on today.
Cara Kalf
Thank you so much for having me.
Cara Kalf
It was really fun.
Kamila
That was rough.
Kamila
I learned a lot too.
Kamila
I’ve listened to many, many talks.
Kamila
I’ve learned a lot in this one.
Cara Kalf
Thank you.
Kamila
Yep, thank you.
Kamila
Have a good one.
Kamila
You too.
Kamila
Bye bye.