Xello and Collegewise Professional Development Workshop: Fall 2021 [3-Part Webinar]

Xello and Collegewise Professional Development Workshop: Fall 2021 [3-Part Webinar]

College applications season can be a stressful time for students. So Xello and Collegewise teamed up to bring busy counselors this PD workshop series.

We realize that there are limited easy and efficient options for you—as counselors—to access strong, topical professional development. That’s why this fall, we invited our friends at Collegewise to deliver valuable content that helps bridge that gap. Read the recaps below or check out the full recordings.

Workshop 1: How to Write an Effective Letter of Recommendation


  • Arun Ponnusamy, Collegewise Chief Academic Officer at Collegewise
  • Nicole Pilar, Collegewise, Master Counselor
  • Darcee Stock, Xello Product Marketing Manager

Pilar served as the moderator for the workshop. Stock made a brief presentation about how Xello can help counselors with the letter of recommendation letter. Ponnusamy was the primary speaker for the workshop. As part of his role at Collegewise, which includes developing best practices for the company’s counselors, Ponnusamy counsels a small caseload of students. In addition, he has worked in admissions at the University of Chicago, Caltech, and UCLA. Through these roles, Ponnusamy became immersed in how admission decisions are made and the impact of the counselor’s letter recommendation.
Some may question how important the counselor letter of recommendation is more than you realize (and its level of importance is higher at more selective schools). Ponnusamy noted that the recommendation letter “sometimes feel like the last unvarnished piece of truth.” One reason for this is because counselors have a particular perspective on a student. Therefore, they can share information that is not found anywhere else on the application.
So how do you best create the best letter of recommendation? Stories!
“Stories are the simplest easiest way to write a strong letter of recommendation,” Ponnusamy says. He adds the declarative statements are not as powerful and boils it down to show it, don’t tell it.
Some counselors may not have a personal relationship with students, and therefore can’t tell a story about the student. Don’t worry—colleges understand this. Other counselors may be self-conscious. Again, Ponnusamy says counselors should not be overly concerned about this.
Other highlights/tips Ponnusamy offers include the ideal length of a recommendation letter, how to write a letter for an ‘average student,’ how to organize the letter, and tips on what to put in the letter.
Tune into the full workshop

Workshop 2: Helping Students Write More Effective College Essays


  • Nicole Pilar, Collegewise, Master Counselor
  • Kevin McMullin, Collegewise Founder and Chief People Officer

Pilar served as the moderator for the workshop, while McMullin gave a presentation that highlighted the theme of the workshop. Since its founding, Collegewise has guided 25,000 students through their college admissions journeys. And their staff knows admissions – 70% of the counselors worked in admissions offices before joining Collegewise. Through them and other modes, Collegewise has gained expertise regarding the role college essays play in the application process.
Ever wonder what the goal is of the college essay? McMullin reports the goal is to help the student stand out and the college admissions officer appreciate the unique individual.
To help students write great college essays, Collegewise put together four tips. They were developed based on the advice of people in college admissions. Collegewise shares these tips with students at the start of the writing process (even before idea generation). If students are clear on the tips and follow them, the writing process will be more productive.
Here are the four tips. Note, the first three are about topic selection, and the last one is about voice
1. Don’t try to impress the admissions officers; instead, be honest.
2. Own your story.
3. Don’t repeat information from the rest of your application.
4. Sound like you!
McMullin shares a few additional points including:
Admissions officers are not inherently in favor or opposed to any particular topic. Their goal is, I want to understand this 17-year-old human being whose applying to my college.
Students need to remember the college is not an academic essay but instead, a personal essay, and its success is based on how well the reader can get to know the student.
Lastly, parents minimize their role in the process and let their students take the lead. Admissions officers can tell when a parent or other well-meaning adults get too involved.
In the workshop, McMullin explains each of the tips in-depth, what their purpose is, and how they contribute to a great college essay.
Tune into the full workshop

Workshop 3: Common App Updates for Counselors


  • Ryan Gleich, The Common Application, Manager, Partner Services
  • Nicole Pilar, Collegewise, Master Counselor
  • Darcee Stock, Xello Product Marketing Manager

Pilar served in a dual role for the workshop – moderator and presenter. Both Gleich and Stock also served as presenters for portions of the workshop.
This workshop was divided into four sections:

  • Updates to the common app for 2021-2022
  • Application component preview
  • Common App & Xello
  • Resources to help your students

Gleich led off the presentations and gave a high-level overview of the changes to the common app this year. Some elements were removed, and some were added to the common app. Also added was a new essay writing prompt option. There was a significant change to the optional report, according to Gleich, and the Common App added capability for a second option report.
The next segment of the workshop was led by Pilar. He went through each component of the Common App and gave a ton of tips and suggestions on how to fill out each section. Some of the highlights included:

  • Students can apply for a fee waiver even if they don’t fit one of the seven options on the app
  • Students can report their test scores to some colleges while keeping them private from others
  • Students can report hobbies as extracurriculars
  • It’s important to manage and make use of the character counts as much as possible, and it’s okay to use abbreviations

And the final presentation was given by Stock. She went over the Common App Xello integration. Xello simplifies the completion of the Common App in many ways, including tracking applications and easing the process of getting and giving recommendations. The session closed with a very engaging question-and-answer session.
Tune into the full workshop