#084 How to Write the “Why this Major” College Essay with Lisa Marker Robbins Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins  00:18

Well, if you’re listening to this in real time it is college application season for seniors or soon to be seniors in high school. Now, don’t turn out if tune. Now, don’t tune out if you have a younger student, a freshman, a sophomore, a junior in high school, because this will help guide the journey that you’re doing through the sophomore and junior years and particular things that you need to keep in mind to guide you now for what your student will be doing when they get to their senior year. So this there’s something for everybody today, don’t tune out and for seniors, this is bam, right where you are. Now, we are talking about college supplemental essays. This is a very important part of the college application process. Everybody knows that you have to write a personal statement college essay that goes to virtually all colleges that you might apply to. We’ve talked about this on earlier episodes of the podcast, and I’ll be sure to link to those in the show notes. But today’s topic is about one specific type of supplemental college essay. Let’s talk first so about what are supplemental college essays. These are essays that when your student is applying to college, the specific university or college wants your student to answer. Most of those topics are available by the colleges and found inside of their application. Most commonly, you know, over 1000 colleges are using the Common App found at common app.org. Most of those are loaded into the college applications by August 1. However, some colleges will wait until September 1, I actually was looking at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign at the time that I am recording this in early August. And they will not officially load theirs into the common app until September 1. So I just don’t want anybody to be surprised by that. Now, these essays are typically almost always shorter in length than that really long 650 word personal statement that your team is writing for every single college. As matter of fact, the average length of supplemental college essays is 250 words Max. However, don’t be surprised by a wide range of maximum and minimum required length. I’ve seen some as short as 25 words. And yeah, we probably can’t actually call that an essay. And I’ve seen others as long as 500 words as a max. And remember when you’re writing a good essay is quality over quantity. So when your teen sees 500 words, Max, they may not need to write all 500 words. And if you have an essay with a max length of 2550 150 200 words, you’re probably going to need to use every single one of those words to say what you mean. But remember, regardless, this is quality over quantity. Now these supplemental essays come in many shapes, sizes, as we already said and forms some of the most common topics that students are going to be faced with. And this is where when I said if you have a sophomore or a junior freshman, I’m not really that worried about you, you’re just getting used to high school at this point. But if you have a sophomore or junior, it’s actually good for you to know that in the future. You should be expect to write these essays, it might guide the things that you’re doing now to make really good use of your time so you’re prepared for application season, but seniors this will guide you on what to expect inside your applications. A favorite topic is why this college so you’re applying to Tulane University. Tell us why you want to attend to ln, and please don’t just talk about the weather. Another common supplemental college essay is what’s your favorite extracurricular and why I will see that what a lot. A community type essay is another common essay was a community that you belong to remember each of these essays I’m giving you like a general topic for these, but you’re going to find the wording. And individual varieties have these common flavors as you navigate applications. And finally, the next most common one, I won’t say next, like this could be the most common one. I haven’t done a poll on this. But our focus today is why this major, when you are applying to a specific major, many colleges are going to ask you to write eight supplemental college essay explaining your choice. And what we want to look at today is what do they expect for a teenager to be able to say, what do they want to hear about as you describe why you’re selecting this major? Now, before we jump into tips, and what the college is expect and how to navigate this, I filmed a resource video, it is under five minutes that demonstrates for families, how to find the supplemental college essays. Some of them when you get into the common app, they’re very obvious. Others are buried, they’re harder to find, and others don’t get triggered. Until you answer a question in a specific way. Your student says yes to a specific question like are you going to apply to the Honors College at this university, they check the box of Yes. And next thing you know, boom, up pops an additional essay. So I filmed a very quick video under five minutes to show you how to navigate inside the common app to an earth the supplemental essays that your team will have to do if you want to. If you don’t know how to do this, I think everybody probably can benefit from this video. I’m going to link to it in the show notes. But you can find it at flourish coaching co.com forward slash college dash essays. I also besides having an on our website, I have it on our YouTube channel. If you’re not following me over there yet, then go follow subscribe to the flourish coaching YouTube channel. Okay, so that’s gonna guide you on how to find every single supplemental essay. But what we want to talk about right now, is this very popular essay on the part of the colleges of why are you applying to this major? See, many colleges admit directly to the major many universities and colleges, we use those two words interchangeably, but actually, they’re a little bit different. Jennifer, Steven and I got into the differences between those two. In a recent episode, I’ve had her on twice. So she’s got some great episodes as well related to STEM majors. But even universities and colleges that don’t admit directly to the major or directly to the division by division, I mean College of Arts and Sciences College of Engineering, Business College, Health Sciences College, even those who don’t admit directly to the major, they may be admitting to a pre major where you’ll have to go in and show them you’ve got the stuff. And then they’ll let you know later if you’re going to get into the major after your freshman or sophomore year. Many colleges though, still consider what your major of interest is, as they assess your fit two major colleges will be assessing your teens fit to major whether that is Yep, we’re going to directly allow you in or we just want to know what your interest is. You’re a pre major and we’ll decide later on if you’re going to get into the major. Now, if you are unsure for the colleges that you’re considering sophomores and juniors or seniors colleges that you’ve decided, yep, I’m gonna apply there if you’re unsure if they’re admitting directly to the major. I’m going to urge you to jot this down and I’ll put it in the show notes. Go back and listen to episode number 78. That was an a solo episode that I did. And it gives you the essential questions to ask before submitting your college applications. And essentially, the five questions that I give you is how to know if they’re admitting directly to the major and how easy or difficult it is to switch between majors how friendly the school is to undecided and I’ve got some some tips at the end on how to write this why? Why this major essay if you don’t even have a clue what major you’re applying to. So To grab that episode essential questions to ask before submitting applications, you can go to flourish coaching co.com, forward slash, and then just the numbers 078. That is your shortcut to get to the essential questions to ask before submitting applications will will give you the questions to email or call the college with to say, are you going to be admitting me directly to my major? Or do I have to wait? Now, what are the colleges looking for in the sub in this supplemental essay about majors? Well, they are basically just looking for evidence that you know, what you’re getting into, that you’re making in a tent, an intentional choice that is aligned with you. And they want to know that you are a fit for them. You know, some majors are saturated, they have more applications than they could ever admit to far more applications than they could ever admit to this major. Andy Boris talked about this back on Valentine’s Day, February 2022. On the podcast, he has since moved on, but used to be the Director of Admissions at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. And for them, they have so many applications to computer science, they won’t allow students to switch into that major if they don’t apply to it as a senior. So that’s a saturated major. And under enrolled major is a major where it’s not going to be very competitive, they’ve got plenty of room because they don’t have a lot of applicants. So this assessing fit to major is going to be more important for majors were at a particular college, where they have a plethora and abundance of students wanting into that major, they’re not going to have to take as close of a look at your why this major essay, if it’s an under enrolled major at their university. And you know, like, for instance, I was building a list recently for a student who’s a nursing major, there are some schools and most schools have a highly competitive major, but I found a direct admit nursing program for this student, where it’s a newer nursing program, and it is under enrolled at this time. So it’s really open. So they’re going to be willing to take more students in those majors. Okay, so if you’re unsure of the implications around this idea of making an intentional choice about your major in demonstrating to the colleges that you’ve done, the things to know that this fits you, which is that’s what you’re writing about in this essay, I want you to head over and watch my free on demand video on how to select a college major without painting your teen into a corner missing any crucial deadlines or risking choices that both you and your team well, you might end up regretting. So you can go to flourish coaching co.com forward slash video, it’s a free on demand video. And it talks to you about how admission to majors works and what the implications are, so that you don’t have a major downside in your future that you weren’t expecting. Now let’s do a little bit of a deeper dive and talk about what are you going to write about to show this evidence of fit to major? There really, there’s really two parts to this essays. The first part is and this is the most important part, what have you done in your past that has led you to selecting this major, what have you done in your past that has led you to selecting this major, I’m going to give you some examples for this. Inside my launch Career Clarity course, where I guide teens on in support them on knowing themselves well enough and learning about careers well enough to be able to make an intentional choice, we have a module that talks about how to curate experiences to figure out if they fit for you. So if you’re curating experiences and doing things taking action, to be sure that you are assessing whether this major is a good fit for you, you’re gonna have a really easy time writing this essay, and that’s what we teach you about in module four of my course. So let me give you some examples. A student that I know she just graduated from college with a nursing degree. She had a personal experience where she lost a family member to cancer. This led her to a career in healthcare. So maybe somebody else has had a personal experience like that and it’s led them to wanting to go into nursing become A physician, a physician’s assistant, maybe it has led them to going into research. So I want you to think about, have you had a personal experience, you may not be seeking a career in health care. But have you had a personal experience up to this point in life that has helped direct you towards finding your way finding your major. And thinking about that future career that it’s attached to? Have you had a there’s something else you could write about something that you’ve done in the past that lead you to this intentional choice? Have you taken the class, maybe it’s a class at your high school, maybe it is a class that you did on your own outside of your high school curriculum. I’m going to give you another example, a student that we’re working with those Well, She is majoring in business. One of the electives that she took was an entrepreneurship incubator course at her high school, she actually won funding to take her entrepreneurial idea and implement it in her senior year, which is incredibly exciting is going to give her a high level extracurricular. But it shows evidence that she knows what she’s getting into with this business major. Another example, I’m going to pick on my oldest son, Trent, it’s have you do you have a hobby that is leading you to your major in future career, my oldest, he built computers that were years where his birthday and his Christmas list, I’ve talked about this before in previous episodes, I had all sorts of computer components, I would go to the store and and ask for things that I had no idea what I was buying. And then he would use them to build a computer, he went on to apply to the major for computer hardware engineer. So those are closely related. Have you involve yourself in some sort of community service that has led to the major in the career. So another example a student who I was working with, last year, he is going to be a freshman at the University of Virginia, he got into the computer science major, which is a hard nut to crack for sure. And when he was in high school, he volunteered at a youth computer science camp, the same student also had an internship in artificial intelligence. So he would put both of those things into his essay. Do you have extracurricular activities that have led to your choice of major Have you had job shadows, informational interviews, or internships that have or, or paid jobs that have led to this choice of major that you’ve done these things, you’ve taken action, you’ve done these things, and now you have solid evidence behind the intentional choice that you’re making. So let me quickly go over those again. What have you done in your past that has led you to this choice of major, you could lean into a personal experience classes that you’ve taken a hobby that you have community service that you have engaged in extracurricular activities, informational interviews, on careers, job shadows, and internships, and paid work. So those are all things that perhaps you’ve done that you’re gonna lean into. Next up, they also want to know, if you thought about, what will you do in the future with this major, they’re looking for a connection between not just the joy of studying a subject, but that you see how that bridges into the world of work. This will show that you understand your career choices with that major, some of those are linear, right? You get a degree in nursing, you get a degree in teaching that leads to a career that the name of the career sounds like the name of the major. Other paths, actually more path are not quite linear. So if we talk to somebody who is in strategic communications, well, there could have been a variety of college majors that would lead to that. So what we’re looking for in sort of the second part of what they want in this essay is, do you understand your career choices? Have you done your homework? Or looking for what problem do you intend to solve in the world? Or what impact do you hope to have in the world? So two parts of that essay? Now, let me give you some tips as you go about writing this. First of all, before you write the essay, for for a particular college, be sure you understand how that college admits students. Is it directly to the major? Is it to a pre major or are you just being admitted to the university and not necessarily the manager. Remember, go back and listen to episode 078. On essential questions to ask before submitting applications, you can find that at flourish coaching co.com, forward slash 078. Next up, make sure that your supplemental essay on why this major or frankly, any supplemental essay is not repetitive of your personal statement. These college admissions officers are spending a very limited amount of time reading your application. And it is your goal not to repeat yourself. I give that same advice on recommendation letters, if you have two teachers that are really going to say exactly the same thing about you their two math teachers, not a good idea. Let’s not be repetitive, let’s show them something new about how fantastic you are every step of the way throughout your application. Next, if you’re going to end up writing multiple versions of the why this major essay, here’s a strategy that I encourage you to take a look at the various ways that this essay is worded for the colleges, and then get in there and look for what is the longest version. So let’s say that you’ve got one version of that essay that you have to write. And it’s going to be a 300 word essay. All of the other versions of the why this major essay are going to be shorter than that, start with the longest essay. And then you can always edit it down. That is way easier than starting with the shortest one, you might be tempted to start with the shortest one. But that is way easier than starting with the shortest essay on why this major or any other supplemental essay, and then working up to the longer version, start with the longest one and then edit it down to fit the word count of the other versions that you’re asked to do it, you might also have to tweak your messaging a little bit depending on how that prompt is worded. Next, if it’s a short version of the essay, if it’s, you know, 250 words, 150 words, 100 words, be sure that you keep it concise, to the point. And you’re not going to have room for personal narrative. I know in your personal statement, you have a personal narrative, you’re telling a story, you’re demonstrating something about yourself here, just give us the information, don’t get flowery, be short, and to the point and tell them what they want to know. Now, finally, if you are undecided, or you’re stuck between choices of majors, and you find yourself faced with having to write the why this major essay, here’s what I want you to think about. First of all, talk about possible avenues that you’re considering, do you have it narrowed down to two or three options. So you, you would maybe list out those two or three options. And then tell them what action you’re taking to do now while still in high school and what action you’ll take to do during college to be able to make a final decision on that college major that’s going to lead to the future the career that you know is a good fit for you. And be sure that you know how friendly this school is or not to applying undecided or into their Exploratory Studies program. Some colleges are super friendly to that those tend to be more liberal arts colleges, state schools, and even some liberal arts colleges are not as friendly to undecided students. You really want to follow that roadmap, I give you an episode 078 To understand the questions to ask. And I think it’s important that all of you understand what’s at stake. When you are selecting your major and your colleges. Remember, go back in and I’ll walk you through that with our free on demand video found out flourish coaching co.com forward slash video. So to wrap it up, I give everybody a college bound challenge each week. And I’ve given you possibly three to choose from this week. You’re gonna go back and listen to episode 78 and then reach out to your colleges. And by the way, if you’re a sophomore, junior, you can still do this. Go back to Episode 78 Identify the five questions to ask the college and then reach out send them an email ask the questions so that you know how they are admitting students to their university. Or are you at the point where you want to go look at what the supplemental essays are that you’ll be writing as a senior even if you’re a sophomore, junior you want to know what are the college says want to know before I did sign I’m going to apply there, then go watch my free four minute, I think it’s four minutes and 38 seconds video on college essays flourish coaching co.com, forward slash college dash essays. And finally, the mack daddy of them all is our one hour on demand free video to explain to you what’s at risk, and how to make wise choices so that you don’t have limited options in the future. So everybody has their marching orders, it might look a little different depending on if you’re a sophomore, junior or senior. And it may look a little bit different depending on what you already know about the college. So if this has helped you today, please share it with a friend who can benefit from it too. That is how I fulfill my personal mission. Talk about what problem are you gonna solve in the world. My problem I’m going to solve in the world is helping get families out of overwhelm and support them so they can make clear informed decisions and move their student past high school graduation with confidence and joy in their heart. And if you take a minute to rate and review the podcast, I’d really appreciate it