College offers free admissions workshops

Kellie Butler, Oglethorpe University's director of admission, conducts workshops on tips for applying to college and how to write a personal essay.
Kellie Butler, Oglethorpe University's director of admission, conducts workshops on tips for applying to college and how to write a personal essay.

It’s that time of year when ghouls, goblins and other scary creatures crop up in store displays and front lawns. But one of the most frightening features of fall may be less visible.

Writing a college application essay is often a dreaded aspect of the process. Students struggle with a topic, getting started and not sounding too over- or underwhelming.

“We get so many questions very specific to essays,” said Kellie Butler, director of admission at Oglethorpe University. “But maybe we can ease a bit of that anxiety at the beginning.”

A few years ago, Oglethorpe officials set out to ease essay anxiety by offering free workshops on how to craft an engaging story. Butler has continued the practice since taking over the director’s position three years ago.

“We’re always trying to come up with ways to help students and families,” she said. “And essay writing has always been very popular.”

Last year, the pandemic pushed the workshops online, and the first session drew 250 participants, many of whom were high school juniors just beginning to think about college. Some weren’t even considering Oglethorpe as a possibility.

“The point of the workshop is to offer general help to students wherever they’re applying or not,” said Butler. “In some ways, it’s an event to increase knowledge of Oglethorpe, but we don’t talk too much about ourselves. The goal is to find a college that fits you well.”

Much of the information dispels myths about the process, Butler said.

“The stress comes because students think they have to write about something different that happened in their life, something unique that no one else has done. I’ve heard students express that nothing bad has ever happened to them, and they think something traumatic has to have happened for them to write about it. That is so not necessary. I’ve read good essays about simple things that have happened to everyone. How a student frames it is what makes it valuable.”

The sessions sometimes take on topics ranging from how many letters of recommendation are needed and whether it’s important to visit prospective schools.

“These sessions open a portal for questions,” said Butler. “Many times, students don’t have a family member to ask, or they think they’re bothering the admission reps to ask them. That could not be farther from the truth. We want to give them the tools to ask, even if they want to do that anonymously.”

The 90-minute sessions focus on getting started, introducing an interest or passion and what to do when a college doesn’t provide a specific writing prompt. Information on what not to do is also covered, such as not submitting the same essay to multiple schools and not writing the night before the deadline.

“An essay is one of the only things that tells us something personal about the student,” said Butler. “It tells me more about who they are than I can get from other limited elements like a GPA or test scores. It really helps us get to know them and build our community of students.”

Oglethorpe has two free virtual workshops scheduled this month.

Insider Tips for a Great College Application takes place Oct. 14 ( followed by the College Essay Writing Workshop Oct. 20 ( Both begin at 5:30 p.m.

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