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BranchOut! Event Recap: Columbia University Essay Workshop

On November 16th, 2023, Columbia University was gracious enough to bring their Essay Writing Workshop to BranchOut! friends and families. One of the Assistant Directors of Undergraduate Admissions at Columbia University, Mr. Benny Rivera, led this workshop and Q&A session. Attended by high school seniors fine-tuning their essays and high school juniors just beginning to brainstorm essay topics, the event was marked by key insights to the purpose of the college essay.

Flyer from the November 16th event

Attendees dissected Common App prompts and the Columbia supplementals, learning how to approach both traditional essay questions and “List” questions. Mr. Rivera highlighted that there is no right or wrong way to write an essay, sharing that your job as an applicant is to make it easy for the admissions team to picture you. How you do that is up to you. Students should make sure their writing is concise and specific so it is easy to picture them as a holistic applicant. This helped a lot of students shift their mindset about the purpose of the essay, focusing less on finding the “correct” way to answer the prompts and more on finding authentic ways to paint a picture of who they are.


We closed the event with an audience Q&A, in which people asked many thoughtful questions on a range of application topics. Mr. Rivera provided detailed answers based on his insights as an Admissions Counselor. One takeaway that stood out was being intentional about answering “why us?” essays. Applicants should avoid just naming key features of the school they are applying to and moving on. It is necessary to explain the impact each of these key features will have on you as a learner.


BranchOut! is thrilled to have partnered with Columbia University for this event and hopes to bring similar events on topics related to the US college admissions process to our community in the future.


To attend future live events with BranchOut!, be sure to stay up to date with us over at our Facebook, Instagram, or website!


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