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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.
Monday, July 29, 2013
Unveiling of the Essay Topics
Forget the Royal Baby Watch. If you're a high school senior, summer is ready to come to a screeching halt in just a few short days.

Ok, not exactly. But it may be time to get your head back in the game. Kate and William will release the little prince's name, and your life will go on as normal. Then reality kicks in. School starts again in a month or so, but this year-your senior year-you have a few extra things on your plate.

Like your college applications.

They aren't due, of course, until Fall, which may feel light-years away. But the Common Application and many universities have their eyes squarely on the deadline. On August 1st, the Common App releases its essay questions for the 2014-2015 admissions cycle. Essay prompts from high profile colleges have begun to trickle out.

Bear in mind that even if your schools of choice use the Common App, they may also require the submission of supplemental essays. So even if you have no intention of hitting the keyboard until October, you should pay careful attention to what is required of you.

While some schools have attracted recent press for scaling back the essay requirements (Harvard eliminated it, Georgetown's MBA program is inviting a tweet alternative), the vast majority of them still want a good old-fashioned admission essay. Not many schools will ask you to spill 500 words about your favorite kind of mustard.

You're more likely to get a standard like this one from the UC: "Describe the world you come from -- for example, your family, community or school -- and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations."

It doesn't exactly get the creative juices flowing. And yet, in a few months' time, you need a good response. Starting early may not sound good, but it's a whole lot better than finishing late.

Just because it's summer, doesn't mean you shouldn't keep your eye on the ball.


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Monday, July 22, 2013
Your Admissions Essay-an Exercise in Teaching?
They say the best way to learn is to teach. Most educators will tell you that they often learn as much from their students as their students do from them. Put simply, it's virtually impossible to really understand a concept if you can't explain it to someone else. Ever been asked to "define irony"? Explain why the sun sets every day?

Sure. I know what you mean. I just can't. Quite. Explain it.

No one wants to read an essay like that. And I've read many. Multitudes of essays written by students who are obviously trying really hard trying to write something catchy, anecdotal, even allegorical. Quite often, it's just boring.

Any college English professor will tell you that if you don't have a solid thesis, your writing will meander. To me, meandering is the single biggest offense I see in admissions essay writing. It's what makes essays uninteresting or hard to follow. You must have a point, and you must defend that point persuasively.

And let's face it, defending a point persuasively is precisely what a good educator does. If your math teacher can't find a way to convince you that 2+2 is 4, then he's not doing his job.

So as an exercise, pretend that your essay is an instruction guide of sorts. You are teaching your reader about you or something important to you. Don't confuse this with what you think your reader might want to hear. No teacher would be successful at her job if she were simply pandering to her students.

If you're going to define irony, do it well.


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Wednesday, July 17, 2013
What Does #YOLO Mean to You?
Tufts University in Massachusetts wants to know. The internet is positively alight with the headline. Who knew? Who cares? What does YOLO even mean?

Let's backtrack. Let's assume hash tags and millennial acronyms aren't your thing. "You only live once" is not a new turn of phrase (isn't it an old Bond movie?), but it was recently repackaged (YOLO) by the rapper Drake in his 2011 hit "The Motto".

Condensing the carpe-diem-esque concept into a four character soundbyte helped it take flight in the social media realm. You've not really arrived until you've been hash-tagged, after all. Even if you're a dog-eared platitude.

Undeterred, Tufts-a small, private, liberal arts institution in an area of the country brimming with such places-is trying to set themselves apart by being faux-cool. Like many universities have in recent years, Tufts is making a show of breaking the stuffy aesthetic of admission essay prompts.

To be precise-the question itself doesn't really break any new ground; it's the way they're asking it: "Have you ever seized the day? Lived like there was no tomorrow? Or perhaps you plan to shout YOLO while jumping into something in the future. What does #YOLO mean to you?"

The web is abuzz with discussion, which seems slightly misplaced since Tufts has a history of offering unusual prompts ("Discuss your nerdy side"). They've touched a nerve with some who feel the nod to an African-American rapper is an exploitative attempt at relevance by a historically white institution.

Which is precisely all that any university can hope for. With a 2012 acceptance rate of under 19%, Tufts is not starving for applicants. But in a competitive environment in which all universities must meet their financial bottom lines, relevance is key. #goodmarketing


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Monday, July 15, 2013
Your Admission Essay-A Summer Blockbuster?
You know the saying, there's more than one way to skin a cat. I've always found it a rather grotesque reference. If English isn't your first language, it may just sound gross and nonsensical. Still, the phrase sticks with you. There's more than one way to peel a banana or tie your shoe, but those phrases don't exactly stop you in your tracks. You might be wondering where this plot is going...

If you're a student and you're finding it hard to strike literary gold with your personal statement, you're not alone. For every hundred of you, there is a college coach/guidance counselor/tutor or other concerned adult trying to bottle some sage advice to guide you. Write from the heart. Show, don't tell. Keep it simple. (I've offered all these nuggets myself). I recently came across an article promoting the idea that the best essay should read like-you guessed it-a Hollywood blockbuster. Or, maybe you didn't see that one coming. The college coach pushing this idea is a former screenwriter, and while my gut said "tacky", he has a point. Above all, your admission essay has to be interesting. If it's not, your reader will tune out by paragraph two.

There is, of course, more than one way to approach an essay. Educators are likely to guide you more gently towards compelling prose, but there is more than one way to get there. Writing a gripping essay isn't easy. Even young students who aren't writing a screenplay tend to overshoot the dramatic mark.

However, in the same way that a good trial lawyer has to put on a show in order to woo her jury, a student-writer cannot expect to persuade her audience without crafting something creative and engaging. Hollywood certainly has that formula down.

This recipe may not be for everyone. But if it helps you get your essay off the ground...why not?


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Monday, July 8, 2013
Supreme Court Rules on Affirmative Action
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in the college affirmative action case, side-stepping an all-out ban on the use of race consideration in college admissions. What the court did do was to make the use of race in college admissions considerably more difficult.

Universities will now be subjected to the highest level of legal scrutiny when making admissions decisions based solely on the race of a candidate. This decision did not come as a huge surprise. Proponents of affirmative action say that the ruling will make it effectively impossible to allow race as a factor. Opponents of the policy claim that the ruling did not go far enough.

However, the net effect of the ruling is essentially the same. Because it will now be so much more difficult for universities to consider race in their admissions policies, schools will have to get creative in finding new ways to maintain a racially diverse student body. This would have been the case if the court had, in fact, decided to abolish affirmative action in its entirety.

As expected, schools in Texas (and elsewhere), will likely turn their focus to "class" in order to add dimension to their graduating classes. For better or worse, race and socioeconomics track together in the US, with people of color falling disproportionately occupying the lower income brackets. By targeting socioeconomics, schools may be able to achieve the same end.

The idea of artificially creating diversity in third-level education may be a partisan issue, but it also has many practical proponents. In friends-of-the-court briefs, several large corporations supported the idea, citing the importance of a diverse workforce in today's global economy. The Obama administration proffered a similar argument, noting the need for racial diversity in the nation's military officer corps.

Achieving this diversity may have just become a little bit more challenging. But not impossible.


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Monday, July 1, 2013
Is the Admission Essay Going Out of Style?
I'll admit, it's hard to keep up. One of my cars has an audio cassette player. The newer one has an iPod doc. My young kids don't know what CDs are used for. They've been to a library, but they'd rather have me download books for them. Now. As an adult, it's always hard to see the relics of your past become obsolete. It's a referendum on your own mortality, maybe. But life goes on. And the world of college admissions is no different.

Already, most colleges accept applications on line. There is noise about taking standardized testing off Scantron sheets and onto iPads. Nearly every college now has an interactive social media "presence", and most of us know what that means.

The Tippie School of Management at the University of Iowa turned heads a few years back when it replaced one of its traditional personal statement options with a Tweet. (In fact, they offered a full ride scholarship to the candidate with the best 140-character quip). They quickly pulled that option, but not before other business schools-Georgetown among them-began to offer the Tweet as an essay alternative.

This year, Tippie applicants have the option of replacing two admissions essays with a SlideShare presentation. The schools are grasping for a more relevant window into the applicant's experience using a new blueprint for communication. So many of the words we read no longer appear on paper. We now expect them to hang against the backdrop of hyperlinks, pictures, videos, and portals into other options.

Changing the application medium hopefully means that admissions officers get a visual, conceptual offering from applicants that is both more interesting and more illustrative than an essay on paper. For applicants, it opens up creative possibilities.

It's a safe bet that the majority of applicants and universities don't yet have the technology skills or assets to pull the plug on the traditional application essay. What these business schools are showing, however, is that the college application process is not immune to progress.

Watch this space. And keep an open mind.


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