Use the SPARC method to CRUSH your college application essays! #AMA with Admissionado

On August 1st, college applications will open for the next admissions cycle. Are you ready? Nervous? Is this you? Never fear - Admissionado, the A-List of college admissions consultants, is here to tackle your questions around the art and science of the college application profile, with an emphasis on how you can make your personal statement and supplemental essays shine bright like a diamond (or your preferred lustrous gem).

All this week, mentors Athena Lao (@Admissionado_Athena) and Rob Franklin (@Admissionado_Rob) are ready to share with you how to add a SPARC (really, please, ask us about this; we aren’t just misspelling “spark” repeatedly :grinning: so your overall application profile comes off not just as coherent, but electric. Ask, and ye shall receive!

Admissionado was founded in 2007 on a genuine love of excellence, the pursuit of perfection, and an almost unhealthy zeal for being the best. We’ve helped thousands of students and families worldwide successfully navigate the college, graduate, and MBA application process and get admitted to their dream schools.

GIVEAWAY: The Admissionado team will be giving away a free profile assessment & follow up call! They’ll randomly select one winner from the first 20 members that ask a question on this thread. Good luck!

ADMIN NOTE: This sponsored AMA is intended for the community to ask questions and receive answers from an official CC partner, Admissionado. Any off-topic discussion will likely be moved to a separate thread.

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What does SPARC stand for? Can you help me find more info? Thanks!

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Would you recommend tailoring our personal statement to our top choice schools on our list (i.e. highlighting qualities that these schools explicitly value in applicants), or just doing this in the supplemental essays?

Hi @advicegatherer! Thanks for your question. SPARC is a framework we use at Admissionado to describe the common traits college admissions officers are looking for in prospective students, the qualities these students should therefore emphasize in their essays. It stands for:

Seizes - “seizes the day,” taking advantage of opportunities to make your voice heard and advocate for your needs and wants
Pursues - “pursues challenges” that would scare others away with a sense of confidence and drive
Asks - “asks questions,” displaying an intellectual curiosity and desire to learn for the sake of learning, not just getting the grade
Risks - “takes calculated risks,” not just playing by the rules but breaking the mould or thinking outside the box when it helps you progress toward a goal
Creates - “creates” opportunities where others see none, a propensity to be crafty and creative when met with obstacles

You can find a full breakdown with examples of essays that display each of these traits at the page hyperlinked (with the word SPARC) above!

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Great question @alkae! I think the best time investment is in focusing on writing ONE personal statement that encapsulates the most compelling and cohesive version of your story or background, then using supplements to elaborate on why you would be a strong fit at each individual school, based on what you can research about their priorities and offerings.

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Is it okay if we do not follow EVERY letter of SPARC?

I am writing an essay and I mentioned there that I did not open my own physical store because it would’ve hurt my grades. (kind of a long story).
That takes the R-Risk element out of my essay. I think my essay resonates with every other letter of SPARC.

Really looking forward to your reply and maybe winning the free profile assessment🤞.

Thank you!

Hi @Anupamrubu – yes! Very few essays (and people) will evidence all of these qualities at once. In fact, it’s often most helpful to use this framework to determine which 1 - 2 SPARC qualities are most central to your essay’s first draft, then edit with eyes toward really bringing those qualities to the fore.

Good luck on the free profile assessment :slight_smile:

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what are some of the key points to consider when applying for a college?

  1. What are some of the best ways to start off essays so that they catch the reviewer’s eyes when they look through your application?

  2. My list of extracurriculars is not consistent - I don’t have anything that I have done for all 4 years of high school, I only started getting into them the last 2 years. Will that decrease my chances, and how & where could I explain that I wasn’t able to find a extracurricular that I wanted to be involved in until later during high school?

Is it too repetitive to write the main essay about an EC that you have already listed in the “Extra Curriculum” section (eg writing about why you like the EC, what did you do, etc)? Or should the main essay more about “personal growth”?

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Do you think it would be effective to integrate an overarching metaphor or allegory in the PS to display both personal and academic interests as well as SPARC?

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Hello! I’ve been doing some research into the PS lately, and I’m a bit torn about what I should write about. Should I be focusing more on providing insight to my character and background (i.e. write about my family and the responsibilities I took upon since I was young) or more about my passions and interests and how that led me into my intended major? Is writing a ‘quirkier’ essay (like the infamous Costco or Papa John’s essays) better, or one that is more emotionally charged?

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Hello Admissionado team!

How do you recommend brainstorming ideas for the PS essay? I feel like I have a gist of what I want to write about and that’s about one of my passions. I just am feeling unsure where to start… should I pick an event that’s happened (related to that passion) that shows personal growth? I feel like I have such a bad memory, nothing significant (life-changing) comes to mind. :persevere:

Hey @ap7125 ! Athena from Admissionado here. Hope you’re doing great!

  1. So, there’s no one magical bullet into the heart of any application reader (or any reader in general), but here are some things that have worked for our students in the past:
  • Starting “in medias res” (in the middle of things; oh hey Latin!) - think of your favorite movies. Put us in the center of all the action to pique our interest, and then step back and help us understand exactly what’s going on and why it matters for you and for them
  • Quotes - can be cliche, but when done well (e.g. you choose a quote from someone a bit more personal/unique to your life, like a family member says often that seemed nonsensical when you were growing up but now makes a heck of a lot more sense because you’re…Older and Wiser, so the quote has meaning and power throughout the essay), they can be effective.
  • Statistics - if you’re choosing the “topic or concept you find engaging” prompt from the Common App, this could work.

But zooming out, in general, make sure the first sentence sparks our curiosity! You need to make us want to keep reading and ask a) What happened next? and b) I wonder what s/he/they mean by that! I want to know more!

  1. So, I think you want to frame this from a position of strength. Discovering an EC later in high school isn’t necessarily a weakness. In fact, it’s great that you explored and authentically found something you enjoyed, rather than trying to force yourself into some sort of neat and tidy narrative. For your activities list and essays, focus what you learned from those experiences, why they’re meaningful to you, and what you learned from them. That’s what colleges are going to care most about in the end.

Hope that helps! :slight_smile:

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Hey @sonatarhia ! Great question. While I have had students who spent a majority of time on one EC and write their Common App essay on a particular experience within that activity (and then get into one of their top schools!), I tend to encourage my students to dig as deep as possible and try to write about an experience in which they learned something about themselves and became a better person. You want the SPARC traits that you highlight in your essay to complement the information / #vibe that come across in the rest of your application.

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Hi @apply2bsmd2022! My short answer is, “Yes…?” This is one of those “I can’t tell you if it’s working until I see it” moments, but I have definitely had students who have done that successfully in their essays! I think the trick is not to do too much. Focus on showing a SPARC quality (or 2 or 3) rather than trying to make your essay do everything.

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@emilytheliu I would think about which topics might allow you to show more of who you are.

On the subject of character / background vs. passions/interest → major, is there potentially a connection between your family responsibilities and what you want to study? I don’t think those topics are mutually exclusive.

That said, I’ve found that the best essays are able to show insight into a person’s character (back to those SPARC traits!). At the end of the day, you want your essay to corroborate, but not duplicate, what you show in the rest of your application.

On tone: In my experience, stories with a more “positive” tone - whether that goes in the direction of quirkiness, self-deprecation, a keen sense of irony, or maybe even humorous almost-absurdity - have tended to be more effective than essays that go for “serious and emotionally charged.” But I think this is a matter in which you have to first try out a topic, and then try out that topic in different moods and see which one lands the best + feels the most authentic to who you are!

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Helllloooooo @reeyapatel ! Trust yourself - you’re going in the right direction! Some ideas:

  • If you can’t think of One Big Moment, write out a 650ish word chronicle of how you came to know that one of your passions was truly a passion! I’ve found that sometimes a free write like this can help you unearth details you may have forgotten or help you find a theme for your journey.
  • Is there someone you admire who has reached Expert level in your passion or helped you discover that passion? How are you similar? Different? What did you learn from them?
  • Is there an interesting fact/statistic/phenomenon related to your passion that you’ve always found interesting? If so, why? And why should we care?
  • Is there a specific ritual or habit that you have developed as a result of this passion?..So sort of the opposite of a One Big Moment, but it’s something you do every day or fairly often, so it helps us understand you?
  • What are some times you failed or got embarrassed while trying to pursue this passion? Sometimes these can be key moments in our personal growth.

Hope these ideas help unleash some creativity!

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Hi @arpijoy, this question can be interpreted in a lot of ways - do you mean how to choose schools? Or the application itself? Or how not to get super stressed about things? Or all of the above? Something else entirely? Let us know! :slight_smile:

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