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Dyllen Nellis: Empowering Students to Write Compelling College Essays

Dyllen Nellis: Empowering Students to Write Compelling College Essays

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Hey, friends! Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Dyllen Nellis, the founder and CEO of Dyllen's College Essay Advice. Let’s learn what’s happening there and how Dyllen is making a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Dyllen! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through Dyllen's College Essay Advice?

Dyllen: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Did you know college admissions are becoming increasingly more competitive, causing immense stress and anxiety to students across the globe? 

Spiffy: Really? I wasn’t aware!

Dyllen: Yes! Most have no idea how to strategically write a compelling college essay—because their schools don't offer this help, they have false beliefs about what admissions officers want from them, or economic/systemic barriers. We empower students to discover their sense of self and effectively communicate their personal values, experiences, and potential in well-crafted college essays. We believe in creating results in less time, with more ease. Our system places emphasis on self-reflection, structure, and storytelling techniques to build a cohesive narrative and competitive application.

Spiffy: Awesome! What motivated you to tackle this challenge?

Dyllen: When I applied to college in 2018, I noticed a lack of resources and guidance at my high school. Teachers and counselors often told us to "write your college essays!" but they failed to explain how. So, I sought out numerous articles, books, and videos to educate myself on the ins and outs of the college application process. College applications suddenly became an invigorating activity that challenged me to explore my own identity and convey it through stories. After implementing each of the strategies I researched into my own applications, I was accepted into 8/8 schools I applied to, including Stanford, USC, UCLA, NYU, and more. I began making YouTube videos to share my strategy with the world. 

Spiffy: That’s awesome! Congrats on cracking the code and deciding to help others with your knowledge. How would you say that your organization is working towards a more equitable world?

Dyllen: We work to increase access to higher education by teaching students the strategy to stand out in their essays and extracurriculars. In doing so, they learn an incredible amount about themselves by better understanding their own values and identity. We provide scholarships for first-gen low-income (FGLI) students to our course, The Ultimate Guide to Craft Your Story. For each purchase of the course, one is donated to a FGLI student. 

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone or initiative. What impact does it make on your audience or community?

Dyllen: We have been working to create new AI tools to help students be more efficient in the college application process in an ethical way. For example, we released an AI passion project idea generator that provides unique, creative, and personalized recommendations tailored to their interests. Students have been able to use this tool for free, and it's been super popular. This tool not only helps them create a better college application, but also ensures the projects they create will have a social-good impact.

Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn’t give up. What did you learn from it?

Dyllen: In the fall of 2021, I was incredibly stressed and overwhelmed with the amount of work it took to run my business and be a full-time college student. I had so many mundane management tasks that became unsustainable when my business started to grow faster than I could handle. But in the summer of 2022, I spent months engineering automations to make the process seamless for me, my team, and my students. I had no idea if what I wanted to automate was possible, but I kept trying and, with the help of Make's (the automation platform) customer support, it worked!

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Dyllen—it’s been an honor!

Dyllen Nellis is a college admissions coach and undergraduate at Stanford University. After developing a strategy that got her accepted into every college she applied to, she launched Dyllen's College Essay Advice to help other students achieve their dreams of higher education. She empowers students to discover their sense of self and effectively communicate their personal values, experiences, and potential in stand-out college applications. (Nominated by Kayla DiPilato of StartOut. First published on the Ladderworks website on July 5, 2023.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.