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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.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
The Most Unnecessary Essay Mistake of All
For every article out promising the top ten most helpful essay tips, there is another one warning students about the most obvious pitfalls. Some-but far from all-include what I think is the most obvious: pay attention to the essay prompt.

Many students approach the essay with preconceived notions of what they plan to say. How playing piano taught me about life. How traveling to an impoverished country taught me about compassion. More often, they aren't too sure, so they throw in the whole kitchen sink-from the 6th grade soccer championship to their job as a camp counselor. All of this is fine, so long as your mini-biography is answering the question posed.

Don't make obvious mistakes. A 1000 word essay is not the same as a 1000 character essay. The University of California often confuses students with their two essay prompts, which are limited to 1000 words total. Students are allowed to portion out the essays however they want (750/250, 500/500), but even this simple math can get overlooked during the stress of the application process.

Part of the problem for some undergraduates is the sheer volume of applications. You may not be able to get away with drafting a single all-purpose essay. So make sure you don't send an essay designated for University X to University Y. Oops.

If the essay has a very specific prompt, don't write your life story. Don't miss the prompt by writing what you think the admissions officer wants to hear. When the University of Chicago asks you "What does Play-Doh have to do with Plato?", that's the prompt you're stuck with. Sixth grade soccer championship may not have a place here, unless you've gotten real creative. Failing to answer the prompt suggests two things about you: 1) you don't follow direction well and 2) you don't pay attention when it counts.

Read the question. Then read it again. Make sure your proofreader reads the question, so they can tell you whether or not you've answered it. Your first test in the application is your ability to follow directions. That should be an easy "A".


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Saturday, November 17, 2012
Social Media Becoming More Damaging for College Students
Back in September, I wrote about the astounding percentages of college admissions officers that use Facebook, Twitter and the like as recruitment tools. Last year, I blogged about the importance of keeping your online profile clean. Apparently, this is now more important than ever before.

The results of a study conducted by Kaplan (the test prep behemoth) were released in October of this year. The general trend? Schools are relying more and more on social media as a method of evaluating students. Around 26% of admissions officers surveyed said they use Facebook and Google in order to check students out.

The big change from last year was the way in which online impropriety can negatively impact a student's chance of admission. Back in 2011, 12% of the admissions officers said it mattered-this year that number tripled. That picture of you doing a keg stand? It's really got to go.

It makes sense. You're an admission officer. You've got a pile of essays, letters of recommendation, and applications to sift through. Bo-ring. How is it possible for one not to simply start running into the next? Why wouldn't you flip open the lap top, see what that soccer player from Scranton has up on her Facebook page. Witty links? Photos of her parents? Oh-so that's what she looks like.

Social media has turned us into voyeurs. We have become adept at communicating from behind a screen. We use the internet to create collages of ideological and literal images of ourselves. Many young students have already spent years building up their catalogues. Why wouldn't an admission officer want to look?

So I'll say it again. Make sure the cyberspace portfolio you've created for yourself is one you'd be willing to share with your grandparents. That's a safe place to start. For Kaplan's Press Release: Kaplan


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Sunday, November 11, 2012
Hurricane Sandy Affects College Admissions Deadlines
As portions of the Northeast continue to wade through the treacherous wake left by Hurricane Sandy, it's easy for the rest of the country to forget. After the worst ravages of the storm had subsided, major news outlets seemed to forget about it. Whatever coverage was left was usurped by Election Day. And while thousands of people are left homeless, and others fight for rationed gasoline and electricity, some of the storm's after effects are more subtle. Put into perspective, college applications may seem largely irrelevant to students in the storm's path. However, for students who've been working towards a November 1st deadline for the past four years, life does go on, and college still awaits. Literally.

The National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) has offered an updated list of more than 200 universities and colleges that have extended their early admissions deadlines in order to accommodate students affected by the storm. From a compassionate standpoint, this may seem like a no-brainer. But college admissions is tied tightly to a system of strict deadlines leaving very little room for movement.

The various forms of early admission application (early decision, early action, etc...) necessarily require an earlier application deadline. Generally speaking, acceptance rates are higher for early admissions applications, but there are drawbacks. Some decisions are binding-in other words, if a student gets accepted there, they commit to attending. Early decision means that students don't get an opportunity to compare financial aid packages from other universities, which can be a deal breaker for students without the means to fund their education.

Fortunately, universities across the country are doing the right thing, and loosening the reins on students in the affected areas of the Northeast. All people are feeling different effects from the storm, but for any anxious high school students in Sandy's path, this should come as some small relief.


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Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Election Day and College Admissions
To be fair, this blog is about college and graduate school admission. I always aim to be non-partisan and try to keep politics out of my observations. However, it is Election Day, so I thought I'd comment briefly on a few hot button issues impacting students. Each of the presidential candidates necessarily has different views on economic policy, which will trickle down to students in different ways.

Since I'm no political expert, I'm borrowing from this bullet list at College Bound and I'll let them explain the "gainful employment rule".

I write a lot about the factors which shape student's college choices-test scores, GPAs, personal statements, letters of recommendation. However, the reality for many students is that their ultimate choice will depend mostly on their ability to afford it. This is where students would be wise to look at the presidential candidates varying approaches to financial aid policies-including both loans and grants.

Affirmative action is always a hot-button issue, and the presidential candidates also differ here. However, given the power of states to regulate affirmative action in their own universities, the candidates may not have much direct or immediate influence. As I've written in previous blogs, the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, which is currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court, may have a more sweeping effect on ongoing affirmative action policies.

Finally, the presidential candidates differ on their approach to education for illegal immigrants. President Obama has publicly supported policies that would offer "a pathway to citizenship" to young foreign nationals who were brought to the U.S. as children. Governor Romney opposes such policies, arguing that amnesty serves as a validation for illegal activity. Financial aid can be a hurdle for non-citizen students.

Whatever your personal politics as a student, it is always a good idea to stay informed. Your future may depend upon it!


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Monday, November 5, 2012
Things NOT to Put Into Your Admission Essay, Part Two
Back in July of this year, I shared another "Not-To-Do" list of things you probably shouldn't say in your college admissions essay. Since so much essay writing advice consists of generalizations, I love it when I find articles that get specific about things you should avoid. November is essay-writing season for college applicants. In celebration, I offer some more admonitions about essay-writing.

To be fair, I've found another list, but wanted to expand on some of their recommendations. CBS News

I'm a big supporter of eliminating platitudes (#9), like "I want to make the world a better place". I'm pretty sure many admissions officers would share my distaste for sentimentality (#4). I'm always impressed when students tackle personal pain in their writing (death, substance abuse, disabilities), but never impressed when it seems like they're using obstacles as a proverbial violin.

When I'm editing, the first place I start word-hacking is the opening sentence (see #1). The short word-limits on most admissions essays mean that you don't have time to meander towards your point. Think of your reader as impatient.

Finally-and this applies disproportionately to high school students-you really shouldn't use long words when simple ones will do the trick (#7). Anyone can log into a thesaurus. Remember, your reader is looking at her watch. She does not remember reading Gulliver's Travels in high school, so don't say "Brobdingnagian" instead of "big" to be cute. Sound harsh? Better you hear it from me than your college of choice.


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