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Admissions Essays Blog
Through our very own editors and guest writers, this blog will discuss the INSIDE scoop on the admissions process of various schools and programs. If you wish to ask a specific question, please write to us, and we will make every attempt to address your questions in our future blog discussions.
Friday, September 18, 2009
10 Tips For Writing A Winning College Admission Essay

10 Tips for Writing a College Essay that Gets You Noticed

1. Obviously, read the instructions carefully. Most colleges will specify a word length or provide a topic for you to address. Others, like the Common Application, will allow you to choose from a list. If you're applying to ten colleges, you may want to consider writing about a topic that you can adjust for other applications. If you do decide to use one essay for all of your colleges, I would suggest that you try to find a way to personalize it a little for each school. Can you make it specific to their community or values?

2. Choose a topic that allows you to express what you value, who you are as a person, and what you can add to the campus community. Take some time to really think about your topic and try to choose something unique. Admissions counselors read thousands of essays. The most common ones are about sports achievements and participation in volunteer work. If you are thinking about choosing one of these topics, can you think of a way to make it different?

3. Remember: The admissions essay is NOT a resume! It is impossible to tell the committee everything about you in one short essay. Instead of listing all of the things you've done, choose ONE thing and tell a story that lets the committee see many things about you. Also…don't write about something that you've included in another part of the application.

4. If there is anything about your application that needs to be explained (weak grades, for example), then you may want to include it in your essay. Discuss how you approached any difficulties and explain what you learned as a result. Don't make excuses; just be honest! Your reader may be impressed with your ability to tackle a problem head on, rather than avoid it altogether.

5. Write an opener that hooks your readers. You want them to actually want to continue reading rather than think, "I've read this story a million times before." Can you entice them with a personal anecdote, for example? Quotes are also good, but you should know that

a lot of people take this approach. If you use a quote, don't just toss it in there and think it's enough. Build a story around it! Make it relevant!

6. Make sure your essay is organized. Take your reader on a journey, from beginning to end. There should be a logical progression of information.

7. Conclusions are equally important. The best essays will come full-circle, meaning that they connect back to their openers in a meaningful way. Give your readers something to think about and most importantly, make them hang on to your last word.

8. Choose an appropriate tone. If you're funny, then fine. Make them laugh! But don't try to be something you're not. Be true to yourself; show your own personality!

9. Avoid the thesaurus! If I haven't stressed it enough, then let me do it again: Be yourself! Students often run to the thesaurus to replace their own words with ones that 'sound' more sophisticated. But chances are if you didn't know to use this word to begin with, then you probably don't understand its subtleties. Essays that rely too heavily on a thesaurus are often confusing and choppy!

10. Spell Check is NEVER enough! There is more to editing an essay than running it through Spell Check. While it's a great start, this program does not pick up usage or grammatical errors. Give your essay to someone you trust and ask them to read it. Feedback will help you build an even stronger essay. It will also help you avoid mistakes that make you stand out to the admissions Committee.


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Friday, September 11, 2009
Attention High School Seniors - Top 15 MUST DOs for your College Application
High school seniors, do you know what time it is? It's time to kick-start the college admissions process! Take it from the 'real' experts…first-year college freshmen. When I asked them before class yesterday what advice they would give to high school seniors who were staring down the 'admissions tunnel', they unanimously agreed: "Start now! Don't wait!", chimed one from Maryland. Another (from New Jersey) said, "Don't wait until the last minute to write essays!" And yet another (from Connecticut, I think) yelled, "Make sure you stay organized and keep track of what each college wants because it seems to be different for EVERY, SINGLE school." I could sense some frustration in that last response.

Unanimously--and rather unceremoniously--they all agreed that it's best NOT to procrastinate when it comes to admissions 'stuff'. With that said, I thought it might be a good idea to provide you with a timeline. Now, if you're among the rare few who have already organized your stuff, visited campuses, written rough drafts of your essays, requested letters of recommendation, and written a resume, then you're in the clear. For the rest of you (most of you, I assume), let's hope this puts it into perspective and gives you a bit of inspiration.

September & October:
• If you are planning to take (or re-take) the SAT (including subject tests) and/or ACT, then now is the time to register. Check the dates and register in advance. There's no point in paying late fees. Info can be found at Also make sure you request that scores be sent directly to your colleges.
• Start working on a resume. Be sure to include your class statistics (rank, GPA, etc), a list of clubs and/or sports, your work experience, special projects, awards/honors. No need to include all of the information that can be found on a transcript. Get some advice from a guidance counselor, parent, or teacher.
• Do a bit of review work for the SAT/ACT. There are lots of great books out there to help you get some practice. You might also want to consider registering for a review course.
• Make sure you are aware of deadlines for each college. If you are planning to apply under the early decision/early action option, be sure that you know the deadlines and understand the commitment.
• If you haven't already done so, visit college campuses to see whether they are the 'right fit' for you. Most students say that they "just knew" as soon as they visited.
• Start working on those college admissions essays and personal statements. These DO make an impression, so you want to leave plenty of time to have someone look them over for you. Poor proofreading, lack of focus/organization, inconsistent grammar and punctuation, and lousy sentence construction all make a negative impression. You want to make the admissions committee think, "We've got to get this kid on campus!"
• Ask appropriate teachers/counselors/others to write letters of recommendation on your behalf. Be sure to give them a copy of your resume…and make sure they are aware of your deadlines. Also…give them plenty of time. Frustration sets in easily when students approach teachers at the last minute.
• Request transcripts!
• Begin researching scholarship opportunities. This can be a daunting process. You will need to fill out applications, write essays, and possibly even attend an interview. Best to start EARLY!

November & December:
• Polish your essays!
• Ask recommenders whether they have sent your letters.
• Look over your applications carefully. Many colleges encourage electronic submissions, but this is no excuse for poor proofreading. Ask someone to have a look before you hit that 'send button'.
• Pick up FAFSA forms from your guidance department. There is a lot of required information that your parents will need to provide assistance with. For more information, go to
• If you are applying for scholarships, start writing those essays and requesting letters of recommendation, if necessary. You should keep an organized list that includes requirements and due dates.
• Finally, check to see whether your colleges have received all of the components of your application. If you've submitted online, then there is likely a link where you can check the status of your application. If you've done it the 'old-fashioned' way, then it might be a good idea to call the Admissions Office to check.

Good luck with it all. The process is enough to drive even the calmest, most organized person a little insane. But with some forethought and preparedness, you'll survive.


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Friday, September 4, 2009
INSIDE INFO - Admissions Essays ARE REALLY that important.
A friend of mine has been an Admissions Counselor at a small liberal arts college for the past 13 years; for the past 3 he has served as Head of Admissions. Without giving too much away, I'll simply say that the college has been on Princeton Review's Top 50 List for as long as I can remember. It's a great school. Anyway, on the eve of his 'busy season', which requires a lot of traveling for college fairs and high school information sessions, he was nice enough to talk to me about the whole admissions process and, more specifically, the role of the admissions essay in the 'grand scheme' of things.

What I found most enlightening was his insistence that the essay is a key component of their selection process. I recently read an article that claimed the admissions essay was the last thing that some of the top schools were considering. But he said that while other factors (grades and test scores) helped them to weed through the masses, it was the essay (and the letters of recommendation) that helped the counselors get to know the 'person' rather than the 'applicant'. Furthermore, it sometimes helped give those who may not be immediately accepted because of grades, an extra boost. Even more interesting--was that when all factors are equal (two candidates have similar test scores, GPA's, and activities), it was often the essay that ended up being the deciding factor; the essay that gave the committee a sense of the applicant's personality and made them think 'we want this kid' was the thing that landed the candidate in the acceptance pile.

He went on to tell me about some of his favorite essays that he's read over the years…some because they were amazing, and others because they were, well, not amazing. He also offered incoming freshmen some advice about choosing a topic. He said that he's read countless essays about sports and volunteer activities--and that while those things are certainly admirable, the essay about them often ends up sounding just like the one he's just read. So rather than simply tell about the experience in general, it's better to find something unique about it--a specific story that reveals a little something extra. His favorites are the ones that make him think, laugh, smile, sometimes shed a tear and/or show some creativity and thought. He wants to see essays that are well presented, thoughtfully considered, and honest. And his final bit of advice: "Proofread! Please proofread!"


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