Four Things Undocumented Students Need to Know About Applying to College

resourceFour Things Undocumented Students Need to Know About Applying to Colleges for

Four important questions answered and oodles of resources to help undocumented students prepare and apply for college.

1. Can I still still go to college if I am undocumented?

Yes. There is no federal policy restricting undocumented students from being accepted at a university.

2. Am I eligible for financial aid?

It depends on what state you live in. Undocumented students are ineligible for federal aid, but many schools offer in-state tuition and state and university scholarships to undocumented students. You can find a map of these states here, or on this page.

3. Will applying to colleges give the federal government information that will get me deported?

No. Schools administration do not legally have to give information to the federal government about its students under FERPA (see "Laws and Regulations" below for more information). And any information given to these schools cannot be held against you in court. When it comes to applying for scholarships, the policies different from source to source, so make sure to read their agreements carefully.

4. Should I give up hope on going to college?

No way! You are not alone in this journey. There are many people in your community who are in your same position or are devoting their time and energy to making sure you get to college. Now is the best possible time to apply. 

Here are tons of resources for helping you get there:

Applying to College

How to Get Your Testing, Application Fees, and Basically Everything Else for Free
The title says it all. This is the best and more practical place to start.

The Ten Step Process to Applying to College as an Undocumented Student
Find a college, choose a major, build support, push yourself.

The CollegeBoard’s Repository of Resources for Undocumented Students
A list of organizations and resources for how to get support through applying and attending college.

Free Access to College Essay Guy’s How to Write the Personal Statement
Just write us an email at telling us that you are interested in a pay-what-you-can option and you can get free access.

Matchlighters Scholarship
Free college admissions help: four hours of one-on-one essay feedback and two hours of college-list development

Paying for College: Scholarships and In-State Tuition

A List of Schools’ Financial Aid Policies toward Undocumented Students
Each school has their own policies. While your options may be more limited, there are many schools out there that strongly support you in your journey.

A List of Private Scholarships for California Universities

How to Cut Down the Costs of Attending College

MALDEF’s Scholarship Resource Guide for high school, college, and graduate students

4-Year Colleges & Universities Admissions Policies, Financial Aid, and Scholarships
Admission policies, financial aid, and scholarship opportunities at colleges and universities throughout the nation and abroad.

Laws and Regulations

Free or Reduced-Price Legal Help
When in doubt, ask a professional.

The Nuts and Bolts for Getting Ready for College
See section 1 here for a brief introduction to the important policies related to eligibility for applying to college.

DREAM Act - Five Facts You Need to Know About the DREAM Act
Policies differ by state so you’ll have to do your research.

DACA - The pros and cons of applying for DACA
DACA is a temporary option to defer deportation: “If you are considering applying for DACA but haven't yet done so, take the time to first consider your own personal, immigration, and criminal history and the risks of providing these details to the U.S. government.”

FERPA - The US Department of Education
You have a right to privacy regarding your educational information.

HB60 - Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugee Rights
An Illinois act that allows in-state tuition for undocumented students.

HB540 - Resources for Undocumented Students (AB 540)
A California act that allows in-state tuition for undocumented students

Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) - American Immigration Council
A number given to people without social security numbers so that they can still pay taxes, gaining tax credits, getting a driver’s license, and other things.

Resources for educators

Post-Election: What Educators Can Do to Support Undocumented Students
Everything you need to know about how you can support undocumented students.

Top 5 Tips to Improve your ACT Math Score

Top 5 tips to improve your act math score

ACT Math is a real challenge for some test-takers. Sometimes, even students who pride themselves on their math skills can be caught off-guard by the ACT. Below are five tips to help you improve your ACT Math score, whether you’re a “math person” or not.

Tip # 1: Be attentive to detail

Noticing small details is essential to scoring well in ACT Math. So many ACT students will say they missed math questions due to “stupid mistakes.” In these so-called “stupid” mistakes, test-takers see all the information in a math problem, but they fail to properly recognize certain details.

ACT Math loves to test your ability to notice and correctly interpret every number, symbol, word, or graphic in a math problem. As you practice for the test, teach yourself to scan ACT Math questions for small-but-important-details, such as decimal points, math signs, the wording of story problems, and the components of graphs and charts.

Tip # 2: Approach multiple choice questions strategically

There is no numeric entry in ACT Math, just multiple choice. The correct answer to each math problem will be right in front of you, among the answer choices. When you’re not sure of the right answer, you can always find the correct response by thinking logically and strategically. Learn how to eliminate incorrect answers, and learn the different ways in which ACT Math likes to trick you with tempting-but-wrong choices.

Tip # 3: Research good ACT prep materials

Not all ACT prep materials are created equal. A good set of prep materials for ACT Math is important—think helpful tutorials, good advice, and useful practice materials. Check Reddit for helpful advice and suggestions from other students, and browse trusted ACT blogs for information-packed reading.

Tip #  4: Learn to minimize calculator use

The next time you practice ACT Math, I suggest you play a little game: pretend that you get charged five, maybe ten dollars every time you use your calculator. This turns calculator use into a real decision, doesn’t it? And it should be a real decision!

Yes, the ACT lets you use a calculator on the test, yet excessive reliance on a calculator is a trap! Sometimes mental math or estimation can get you to the right answer almost instantly—much faster than you could if you keyed every step into your calculator. Also remember that writing a few problem steps on scrap paper increases your accuracy. It’s pretty easy to hit the wrong number on a calculator keypad, but much harder to actually write down the incorrect number (and reread it a few times without catching it). Always think carefully about whether you really need that calculator, and look for ways to avoid calculator use.

Tip # 5: Know what’s on the math test, and practice every skill

The #1 mistake students make is not dedicating enough time to all the math topics tested on the ACT. Don’t make this mistake! Especially when there are so many resources guiding you in the right direction. Explore a list of the five most frequently-tested ACT math topics. Prioritize topics that give you problems, and give the ones that come easily to you a break. With the right preparation, you’ll be that much closer to reaching your dream ACT score!

For nearly ten years, David Recine has been teaching students ranging from K-12 to university grads. He is a test prep expert; writing articles for Magoosh that cover everything from tricky SAT vocab words to complex ACT math topics. You can read more of David’s awesome blog posts on the Magoosh High School Blog.

How to Write a Resume for Colleges Using Your Common Application (With 3 Amazing Examples)

how to write a resume for colleges using your common app part 1 of 2

Do I need to send a resume to colleges? (Part 1)

Before you start making a resume to send to colleges, you should first consider this important question:

Do I need to create and send a resume to colleges? 

What do I mean? Well, a few things.  Ask yourself:

1. Do my schools even want me to send them a resume? 

Find out by checking each school’s admissions web page or logging onto the Common App to see which schools include a place to upload a resume. Each school has a different policy on whether or not to submit a supplemental resume and it’s usually a good idea to follow their instructions. #Sarcasm

The University of Virginia says clearly that they do not want students sending additional resumes.  Other schools like Brown University, Boston College, and Carnegie Mellon provide space for uploading optional resumes in the Common App, whereas some schools like the University of Texas - Austin say that submitting a resume is “strongly recommended.” i.e. You should probably do it.

In short, look at what each school requires.

2. Secondly, does my resume provide insight that isn’t already on my application? (Or just because I can send one, does that mean I should?)

So if submitting a resume is optional, how do you know if your resume provides value beyond  your Activities List?  Easy. Take a look at your entire application, including your main Common App essay, your Activities List (maximum of 10 spots and 5 honors/awards), your supplemental essays, and your Additional Info section. 

(Note: If you haven’t noticed, that’s a lot of space to submit information about what you’ve been doing.)

Then ask yourself this: Is there something important about my application that is not already being highlighted or communicated clearly? One example might be:

  • Significant work experience. Have you worked multiple jobs almost full-time to help support your family? Or did you have an awesome internship that you couldn’t fully explain in the 150 characters that the Common App provides? Or maybe you spent hundreds of hours studying marketing and internet search engine optimization and started your own business? It might be worth mentioning these in more detail. Take a look at this (real) resume and ask yourself: Would it have been possible for this student to include all of this detail in 10 spots of 150 characters each? Probably not.

Example Resume #1.

I know, this resume looks unreal for a high school student.  But even if your experience is 1/3rd of this and you’re not able to fit it into your Activities List, consider creating a separate resume that highlights your unmentioned accomplishments and experience

Here are some other reasons to create a separate resume:

  • So many awards. If you’ve won 28 awards as Captain of a Nationally Ranked Colorguard team, it might be worth creating a separate resume to list them all, since they definitely won’t fit on the 5 spots they provide you.
  • So much community service. If you’ve been involved with 6 or 8 separate service organizations in different capacities or led an unusually high number of projects, it might be worth creating a separate resume to highlight each of those and what you’ve done, rather than taking up all of the space on your extracurricular activities list.
  • So many responsibilities. Did you have a lot of different jobs within one particular organization? Is it difficult to list both what your responsibilities were and the impact you had on the organization in 150 characters? The resume is your chance to go into greater detail about your diverse roles and responsibilities, as long as it communicates and highlights new information.

IMPORTANT FINAL NOTE: If there are just one or two smaller activities that you couldn’t fit in the ten spaces provided on the Common App activities list, you can actually probably just include those in the Additional Information section and not have to create a separate resume just to include those two. Check out this blog post to learn how to use this space.

3. Lastly, are there other reasons for creating a resume?

Yes! For example, if you are:

  • Applying for outside scholarships:  When applying to scholarships from 3rd party organizations, many require resumes in addition to essays.
  • Applying to jobs or Internships: If applying to either of these as a high school student or college freshman, it would be easy to tweak your college resume and gear it towards specific internships or summer jobs.
  • Attending an interview: If you have college interviews with alumni or for jobs or internships, it might be a good idea (read: you probably should) bring a copy of your resume to provide some talking points during your interview. They may have seen it already, but it never hurts to be prepared.

Read on to see how to turn your Common Application into a simple and clear resume and see two more awesome sample resumes.

How to Write a Resume for Colleges Using Your Common Application (Part 2 of 2)

how to write a resume for colleges using your common app part 2 of 2

This is part two of the guide to making a simple resume.  Be sure to read part one here.

To follow along, click this link to open up a template, go to File > Make a copy and copy it to your Google Drive and replace the information with your own as you read.

To begin, your basic resume should have three sections: education, experience, and honors.

Oh hey, look. The Common App also has sections like these: “Current or Most Recent School”, “Activities”, and “Honors”. Reminder: this guide is how to translate these sections directly from the Common App into your resume sections. It’ll save you lots of time and produce a solid resume.

And if you haven’t yet completed your Common App Activities List, read this article and complete that first before going any further. 

Here’s how to translate each section:


This is the simplest part. No need for fancy footwork--just plug in information. Your resume could look like this:


High School Name, City, STATE (start year – end year)                 

GPA: Weighted: #.## / Unweighted: #.##      SAT Subject Tests:
SAT: ####                                                             Subj 1: ###
ACT: ##                                                                  Subj 2: ###


Easy as this: Copy and paste all of the components asked for in each entry on the Common App into a new entry in the “experience” section of your resume. 

Here are the components that your Common App asks for:

  1. Activity type.
  2. Position/Leadership description and organization name. (50 character limit)
  3. Please describe this activity, including what you accomplished and any recognition you received, etc. (150 character limit)
  4. Participation grade levels.
  5. Timing or participation: (Hours spent per week, Weeks spent per year)

Example of Common App entry:

  1. Volunteer activity
  2. Chief Facilitator, International Feed-the-Youth Summit, Philadelphia 
  3. Developed lesson plans, lobbied local businesses for sponsorships, held marketing sessions, established partnerships to run 2-wk leadership camp.
  4. 11th grade
  5. Summer 2015.

Here’s what that might look like when plugged into a resume:


Chief Facilitator, International Feed-the-Youth Summit, Philadelphia

Developed lesson plans, lobbied local businesses for sponsorships, held marketing sessions, established partnerships to run 2-wk leadership camp (Summer 2015).

Clean and simple. Feel free to break this down into bullet points and add a bit more detail so it looks like the examples in this guide. Maybe like this:

Chief Facilitator, International Feed-the-Youth Summit, Philadelphia (Summer 2015)

  • Held marketing sessions and lobbied local businesses to establish partnerships to run 2-week leadership camp 
  • Developed lesson plans on leadership for 60 middle and high school participants


Also easy: Put all of the components listed per entry in your “honors” section into an entry into your “honors” section of your resume.

Your honors section in your Common App asks for these components:

  1. Honors title.
  2. Grade level.
  3. Levels of recognition.


  1. Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction
  2. 11th grade
  3. National

If you were to translate this into a resume, it might look like this:

Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction, National Level (2014)

But don’t stop there. Notice you have 100-characters on your Common App, and you can use that space to emphasize selectivity. How? Like this:

Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction – National Level (2014) - Award given to students scoring an average of at least 3.5 on all AP exams taken and scores of 3 or higher on five or more of these exams.

Anything else I should include on my resume?

There might be a few more things to include, if you have them. It also might depend on the purpose of your resume. Examples:

Additional Educational Opportunities

  • A summer enrichment experience such as the Center for Talented Youth, the Research Science Institute (RSI), or Duke TIP
  • MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses)
  • Online classes from a community college or elsewhere


  • Programming languages like Java, Python or C++
  • Spoken languages with proficiency level
  • Significant experience with software like Final Cut Pro, Photoshop, or others.

A cover letter:

  • If you’re using your resume for internship or job experiences, include a short half- to full-page explanation of your goals and experience that will make you an asset to the organization.

For examples of how to incorporate these into your resume, see these examples below.

All-star student number 1

All-star student number 2

How to Write your Extracurricular Essay without Rockstar Achievements

How to Write your Extracurricular Essay without Rockstar Achievements

Not everyone has had a chance to speak at a UN conference.

Or play in Carnegie hall.

When your most valuable experiences aren’t tied to big name titles (like State Champion, National Scholar, First Place, Founder and CEO), that doesn’t mean your experiences won’t bring value to a university campus. 

This article gives three tips for shedding light on some of the things that are harder to put into words.

But first: These tips piggyback off of one of another article, which offers six techniques for writing your 150-word extracurricular essay, which you should totally check out first.

Ready? Here we go:

Tip #1: Quantify your experience.

This is crucial. While you may not have a job title, a well-recognized company, or dollar signs (like money raised) that can make an activities list pop, quantifying how you spent your unstructured time shows you’ve burned the midnight oil, you’ve put in hard work, in short--you've done great stuff. Here’s an example:

I’ve read every book by Paul Farmer and 50+ books and 20+ films on Global Health and social justice to better understand social health care inequity.

This isn’t just for STEM folks. If you're an artist, consider writing down all the hours spent and projects you’ve worked on, even if you didn’t get a chance to finish all of them. Here’s an example:

I’ve created ten short films, worked as an actor in seven (nominated best actor--see add'l info), and have written over 200+ pages of script.

Only you know how much time and energy you’ve put into your passions. While society values well-recognized names (“Fulbright Scholar”), competition winners, and large numbers (“$5,000 for cancer research”), things that people tend to focus less on are the endless hours of unstructured time, unfinished projects, and unrecognized work required to learn skills, develop yourself, and affect change in your community. Give yourself a chance to be proud of this time well-spent. Here’s one more example:

I’ve spent 80+ hours coding 10K+ lines of code for a natural language processing program that correlates the gender of historical figures with the number of verbs performed by each gender in the text of middle school history books (unpublished study).

Tip #2: Briefly mention what roadblocks stopped you from pursuing a related Rockstar Achievement and then explain what you did instead.

Important: Your extracurricular essay should briefly mention roadblocks only to that extracurricular activity. Don’t use this space to mention roadblocks to your academic career in general (i.e. why you failed a certain semester or didn’t take more AP classes)—that’s for your additional info section.

Admissions officers will understand that some students have not had the same access to resources and opportunities as others (i.e. ten years of piano lessons, started a non-profit, traveled the world before age 10, etc.).

Instead, what readers want to know is that you took full advantage of the opportunities presented to you, and that were specific to your circumstances.

While counselors may have some information about your high school or socio-economic environment, they won’t have all the details. Why not make it easy for them? Example:

Without a means of transportation (in Korea the driving age is 18), I was unable to participate in school-sponsored activities or outside tournaments, so I spent most of my time taking online college courses (MOOCs) and reading books about world health care.
Unfortunately, I had to drop basketball my junior year because practices finished after dark and I had to take public transportation home and it is not safe to walk through my neighborhood late at night. However I still helped fundraise for the team and played basketball on the weekends with my little brother. 

Other possible roadblocks:

  • Did your school lack funding or not even have a particular club?
  • Was there too much bureaucratic red tape? (Be specific, if so; don’t whine.)
  • Were you or a family member sick, making it difficult for you to participate in a meaningful event?
  • Did your family lack the funds to pay for your flight to a conference?

Some ideas for what you did instead:

  • I started that club myself.
  • We put together a fundraiser to raise money for the trip.
  • When I couldn’t take that class, I studied on my own (if it relates to your extracurricular activity).

Tip #3. Mention opportunities even if you were unable to attend due to financial, health, or other reasons

For example:

I was accepted at the Stanford Medical Youth Program (SMYSP) but was unable to attend because my family couldn’t afford the cost of the five-week residency.

This was not a “missed opportunity.” This was a success, even if it didn’t go as far as you wanted or expected it to.

Not only is this an acknowledgment of your partial success, your reader might see accepting you as a chance to finally give you the chance to pursue your dreams.

Chuck Norris – How to Write Your Extracurricular Essay

Feeling inspired yet?

Time to get writing. 

Want help on your Common App personal statement?

Check out this Free One-Hour Guide to Writing the Personal Statement.

The Free 1-Hour Guide to the UC Personal Insight Questions

The Free 1-Hour Guide to the UC Personal Insight Questions

Remember that free 1-Hour Guide to the Personal Statement with the step-by-step process with the Essence Objects, Values Exercise, and example essays?

Well, I messed around and did a version for the New UC Application. Why?

Because I’m the College Essay Guy. It’s what I do.

So here’s the deal: the UCs are looking for some very particular information (14 pieces of information, in fact), and the 8 new personal insight questions are intimately connected to these 14 points.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown:

Lesson 1.1 starts off with a Brief Guide to the UC Application so you get the big picture and answers to questions like:

  • What are UC admission officers looking for in these new prompts?
  • How do the new Personal Insight Questions fit into the 14 points of comprehensive review?
  • Also, what ARE the 14 points of comprehensive review?

Glad you asked.

Lesson 1.2 dives deep into each one. For example, when the UC schools say they like to see that you’ve completed “special projects”, what does that even mean?

Lesson 1.3 shows you how to write an awesome UC Activities List and provides some great examples.

In Lesson 1.4, you’ll get inspired as I walk you through the Values Exercise (via video) and help you come up with the topics and content for your responses to the UC prompts.

Lesson 2.1 helps you turn your topics into real actual essays through two different structures: Montage or Narrative.

Then, we get down to business and I walk you through the following:

Lesson 2.2 - How do I answer the PIQ (Personal Insight Questions) by writing about personal challenges through the Narrative Structure?

Lesson 2.3 - Example Narrative Structure and Analysis

Lesson 2.4 - How do I use the Montage Structure to answer the PIQ?

Lesson 2.5 - Example Montage Structure and Analysis

Finally, if you’re looking to really take your essay to the next level, you can take my in-depth How to Answer the UC Application Prompts course or if you’re ready to tackle your Common App essay, take a look at either my Free 1-Hour Guide to Writing the Personal Statement or the more in-depth How to Write a Personal Statement course.

Happy writing!

P.S. What do you think of the new UC prompts? Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Tell me why below.


The Objects Exercise - Video Walkthrough

This is one of my favorite brainstorming activities. Why?

It’s one of the most efficient ways I know to help generate a TON of content for your personal statement and also add texture to bring your essay to life.

Also, it’s just fun to do and a great way to reflect.

Ready to do it?

Click here for a list of questions to help you with the exercise.  Then, watch the video below.

What’s one of your essence objects? Share it in the comments below and tell us what it represents to you.

The Gratitude Exchange

So I created a little exercise called Gratitudes. It’s a great way to start and end your day or connect with a friend or loved one on a long walk.

If you’re a counselor, it’s a great way to check-in with your students. 

If you’re a student, it’s an awesome way to jumpstart an essay writing session.  

Click below to join me in my kitchen as I walk you through the Gratitude Exchange.

What are you grateful for today? Leave a comment below and let me know!

The University of California Application – What's New?

Up until this year, the University of California school system required its applicants to write two essays of 1,000 words total. I loved these topics so much I wrote a love letter to its authors. #TrueStory

But it’s time to bid adieu to these essays as the new UC application is launched this week.

Now, the UCs are asking students to answer four out of eight new prompts. If you’re applying to any of the UC schools, the eight personal insight questions are in your future.

These new prompts bring much more focus than the previous two and each aligns more closely with one or more of the UC schools' 14 comprehensive review criteria. (Tip: You should check those out if you haven’t. They’re important.)

Even though the application was just released this week, we’ve known about these new prompts for a few months. In that time, I’ve been hard at work creating an entire new course to help applicants to the UC schools present their best possible selves to admissions officers.

How to Answer the New UC Application Prompts

In the course, I answer:

  • How do I find my four UC personal insight question topics? 
  • How do I know if my topics are good ones? 
  • How do I stand out when answering the UC prompts? 
  • What does a great UC application prompt look like?

Click here for more details.

What do you think about the new prompts? Confused? Worried? Inspired? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!

What America’s Got Talent Can Teach You About Your College Essay

by Ethan Sawyer, College Essay Guy

Here’s something I’m a little ashamed to admit publicly: Over the past few weeks I’ve started watching YouTube clips of America’s Got Talent. Why? 


FYI: America’s Got Talent is a show in which contestants compete for four judges “yes” votes--get three out of four votes and you move on to the next round. But here’s the thing: each season, every judge has one chance to send a contestant to the Final Round AUTOMATICALLY by pressing The Golden Buzzer.

Cue the confetti and tears.

Cue the confetti and tears.

It’s a glorious moment, the kind of romantic comedy ending moment that makes me feel guilty for feeling emotional--in large part because of my awareness of how the music/sound/everything is choreographed to make me feel all the feelings.

Here’s how it all started: a few nights ago I’m watching hotel TV (the best kind) while at a conference and I happened to catch one of these Golden Buzzer moments. After watching it, I realized there is totally a personal statement-related lesson here. So, y’know I watched like ten of these videos and I found some more lessons.

So here we go: four Golden Buzzer moments and what each can teach you about your college essay.

1. Calysta Bevier: 16 Year-Old Cancer Survivor

Heads-up: Get your tissues ready.

(Once you’ve watched the video, keep reading.)

First of all, have you heard this song before? If you’ve not and you’re curious, here’s the original, by Rachel Platten. It’s a pretty song, but it has nowhere near the resonance (sorry Rachel) that Caly’s version has. Why? Listen to Caly’s revelation before she sings about why her hair is so short.

Spoiler alert: Caly is a Stage III ovarian cancer survivor.

Without this context, it’s a pretty song...

But with this piece of information, when Caly sings “THIS IS MY FIGHT SONG” it just might make your heart open wide open, as it did mine. 

Fun fact: It also happened for my friend Rizzo, when I sent him this video.

Here is my friend Rizzo

Here is my friend Rizzo

And here is the actual text that he sent me after I sent him this video: 



Lesson: Context is so (so) important.

Do you have a story to tell? Good. Ask yourself: is there a piece of information you’ve left out--a challenge you’ve overcome, a secret you’ve kept hidden--that could make us see your story in a totally different light?

Learn from Caly. Be brave like Caly. You just might make our hearts open wide open.

2. Calum Scott

Context is important for this one too: his sister performed right before him and got rejected, so he sings with that knowledge… and with his freshly-rejected, tearful sister offstage to his left. (Watch him glance over at her at 0:19 after the judge asks “You okay?”)

But my favorite moment happens at 2:08 when he takes his hand off the mic mid-song to show everyone that his hand is shaking--like, a lot. Watch the moment again, if you missed it, or pay attention if you haven’t yet. It’s an incredible display of vulnerability. And I love him for it. How can you not?

Lesson: Vulnerability magnetizes. 

Think about what he’s saying in that moment. Even though he is absolutely crushing it in the audition (listen to the audience), he takes a moment to say, “I’m kinda’ freaking out a little bit right now.” He shows he’s nervous, uncertain, in a word… human. 

Your personal statement is a wonderful opportunity to be vulnerable. 

And (pro tip) I believe vulnerability is especially important for high-flyers (read: students with amazing GPAs and test scores. For you, the goal of your personal statement isn’t to prove you’re hard-working, or smart--we get that, check it off your list--it’s to show us something that reveals you’re more than just a brilliant test-taker of tests and scorer of As. Show us something else. Show us your heart.

Speaking of showing her heart...

3. Grace VanderWaal: 12-Year-Old Ukulele Player

Okay, I maybe saved the best for last. This is young brilliance personified. Some prodigy stuff.

And no, I don’t mean these guys: 

Different Prodigy.

Different Prodigy.

But watch the moment at 1:35. 

(Click the video above if you haven’t yet. Really.)

See that? She messes up. She makes a mistake.


Lesson: Don’t obsess over the tiny stuff--especially as you begin the writing process.

Students and counselors concern themselves too much with grammar and spelling--especially at the beginning of the process. (Will those things ultimately need to be on point? Sure.) But that’s not the most important thing in your personal statement... especially at the beginning.

Instead: Sing your heart out on the first draft. Go all Grace VanderWaal on it. 

If you need help, click here.

Then, sometime later, go back and ask these three questions: 

  1. Is the essay vulnerable
  2. Can the reader name 4-5 of my core values?
  3. Have I included several moments of insight?

If not, you’ve got some work to do. 

Once you do that work, you’ll end up with an essay that is well-crafted.

And by the way, do you notice how, in her performance, Grace displays: 

  • vulnerability (by simply being there, first, but also by singing an original song) 
  • core values (humility, authenticity, creativity)
  • insight (most of her friends don’t even know she’s there!)
  • craft (just listen her)?

And do you notice how, in this blog post, I have too? 


To learn how to write a personal statement that demonstrates core values, vulnerability, insight and craft, check out my book, or take a course. I’d love to share more with you. 

Stay curious.