Admissions Essays
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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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Sunday, October 28, 2012
Never Underestimate the Letter of Recommendation
In a recent interview with four business school admissions "experts", the Wall Street Journal asked whether applicants were spending (or wasting) too much time focusing on a single aspect of their applications. The answers went down an unexpected path towards a discussion of letters of recommendation.

The overall consensus on such letters? Students aren't always picking the right recommenders. When they do, they aren't spending enough time with them. At least two on the interview panel suggested taking the recommender out to lunch. Some of the suggestions were even more obvious. Make sure your recommender knows why you want to go to business school.

While the recommendation letter isn't the deciding factor in admissions decisions, it does offer a unique perspective. Grades and test scores are generally objective markers of success. The application essay offers window into the applicant's character, but it is necessarily colored by the student's own spin. Everyone wants to use the essay to make themselves sound more appealing.

A letter of recommendation is thus the only component of the application that allows the subjective views of a third party to influence the admissions decision. However, students should take care to invest some time in their recommenders. They shouldn't assume that the highest-profile recommender will necessarily offer the best recommendation.

These experts want to hear from someone who really knows the candidate, and understands their strengths and weaknesses. An endorsement from a virtual stranger may come across as detached and unhelpful. A certain level of familiarity is essential if any letter is going to truly have impact. And how hard could it be to take someone to lunch?

For the full interview, click here: Wall Street Journal


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Monday, October 22, 2012
Harvard Law School to Conduct Video-Conferencing Interviews
Up until a few years ago, the idea of talking to someone live through a video-feed on a computer seemed positively futuristic. Then, along came Skype and suddenly the world seemed smaller. There is something more tangible and personal about seeing a person's face while you're talking to them.

It isn't a perfect medium just yet-patchy internet connections and geographical distance can cause video transmissions to be inconsistent. But even the echo and occasional frozen screen of a video call doesn't take away from its value as a communication tool.

Apparently, Harvard shares this view. Like many law schools, Harvard uses the personal interview as a tool in its admissions application process. Unfortunately, for students living far away, the interview poses some logistical issues. With the hopes of expanding the interview option to more students, Harvard Law is shifting to video-conferencing.

Telephone interviews will become a thing of the past for the university, something that should come as welcome news to students who would not otherwise be able to make it to an in-person interview.

Harvard taps the shift as another move towards its goal of offering a more "practical-based" law school education. Already, the university has made reforms to its curriculum, including the addition of clinical courses, in order to encourage better practical training for its law students. Law school education is notoriously theoretical; some critiques charge that newly minted law students know the law well, but know little about its real-world application.

The video-conference makes sense. It challenges students' technological savvy, their ability to perform under pressure, and their oral skills of persuasion. A good move in the right direction.


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Monday, October 15, 2012
Bringing the Admissions Decision Closer to Home
Applying to college is a process rife with unknowns. You don't really know much about your competition. You don't know who will be reviewing your application. You don't know what they'll be like. And while you may know generally what colleges are looking for in an ideal candidate, you're not really sure what it will be that will set you apart.

Wouldn't it be great to know the person deciding your fate?

A small, liberal arts college in New England is trying that idea on for size. At Southern Vermont College (SVC), a 550-student institution with a commitment to helping "at-risk" students, admissions officers are enlisting high school counselors to help them make admissions decisions. The hope is that the counselors--who are closer and more invested in the students-- are better situated to recognize talented students whose admissions metrics don't immediately jump off the page.

The college application is an instrument designed to introduce a student to a stranger. An admissions officer is required to make an objective decision based what is often highly subjective information. The transaction is stripped of the personal contact that informs and enriches most of our social relationships.

SVC recognizes that high school guidance counselors are often in a unique position to evaluate and recommend students. Exceptional candidates might rank highly in other aspects visible only to someone who has had the opportunity to really observe or interact with them.

Even at SVC, the final decision rests with their admissions officers. Arguably, the project would be unwieldy at a large university in a bustling metropolis. The idea, however, is novel and thought-provoking. What if, just what if, a person involved in one of your greatest life decisions actually knew a little bit about you?


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Sunday, October 7, 2012
Why Business School? Why Now?
This may be my favorite quote of the week (courtesy, MBA Admissions Expert, Stacy Blackman): "When it comes to your essays, I can't tell you how many first drafts I've read that cite the 'unmatched student body, world-class faculty, and committed alumni network' as the reasons the applicant has chosen a certain MBA program. This person has said nothing".

For college admissions counselors who edit admissions essays for their client, there is a great need for balancing diplomacy and constructive criticism. Often times, when reviewing an essay, I find myself at a loss for both. A student may write a perfectly well-structured, acceptable essay. The problem? It says nothing. It's worse than boring. It's just pointless.

For undergrads, platitudes and regurgitations of university mission statements become crutches, of sorts. The well of life experience is rather unfilled for teenage students. At this point, you're going to college because a) you don't know what else to do at this juncture or b) you know you need that B.A./B.S. even if you don't yet know why. For business students, the expectation is higher.

By the time you're applying to B-School, you've finished college. You may have worked for a few years. You're going to business school for a reason. It's probably pretty specific. If so, your essay should write itself.

Maybe you see an MBA as a tool for increasing your professional worth. If that's the case, be prepared to talk about the "how" and the "why".

Just remember, business schools don't need you to rewrite their brochure or loot it for inspiration. If the school asks you to get specific, then by all means, do.

For Blackman's full article: US News


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Sunday, September 30, 2012
Essay Food for Thought
If there are a million different ways to write an admission essay, there must be at least as many ways to give advice about how to write one. This time of year, counselors, blogs, websites and college fairs are ripe with ideas.

As a writer, I often find that relentless focus is often anathema to the creative writing process. Everyone's heard of writer's block. I'm convinced it gets worse, the harder we try to, well, write. It is usually the simplest thing that triggers an idea. Something I saw on tv. Something someone posted on Facebook. Something totally unrelated to the thing I was trying to write about in the first place.

Almost any student sitting down in front of a blank screen knows what it feels like to be totally stumped. Especially when writing an admissions essay.

This is why I really appreciate the universities that come up with whacky essay prompts. The University of Pennsylvania, authors of the tantalizing "write page 217 of your 300-page autobiography" essay prompt, are introducing a new one this year. Based on a quote from Benjamin Franklin, the admissions committee asks the following:

"All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move. Which are you?"

Hmm. Even if it makes you scratch your head, it isn't a conversation-stopper. Consider this, from the Common Application:

"Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you".

Every time I see a creative prompt like Penn's, I see an opportunity for students to move outside the standard essay fair. If nothing else, sharing these prompts is a good way to provoke discussion. And like I said, the strangest flecks of inspiration can be found in even the most mundane of conversations.


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Monday, September 24, 2012
Social Media and College Admissions
It's that time of year again. Application season is gearing up, and the hand-wringing has begun for high school juniors and seniors all over the country. What better time to check in on the general state of affairs in social media?

As Facebook and Twitter's influence on the social landscape begins to take deeper root, the college admissions machine continues to take note. After all, the client base in higher education is youth. Young people are comfortable with technology. It isn't simply about knowing how to re-boot and text-it's about relying on technology as a new medium of communication. The flip-phone has already gone the way of the rotary phone and made way for the smart phone--a computer that keeps us a flick-of-a-switch away from just about everyone and everything we know. For colleges and potential students alike, reaching out through the World Wide Web is no longer cutting edge. It's just the way it is. In 2010, 80% of college admissions received Facebook friend requests from potential students. Recent surveys indicate that 85% of colleges use Facebook as a recruitment tool; a full 66% use Youtube.

Whether or not social media has adept match-making skills for students and colleges, it is clearly a communication channel that cannot be ignored. So the usual admonitions apply. If you've got a dream school in mind, take down the drunken pictures, and maybe the radical political posts. Utilize the discussion forums on colleges Facebook and Twitter pages. Get your name out there; make your own "page" appealing. Check out your competition.

While you're at it, check out the latest stat-graphics on the subject. Youtube is clearly no longer just a safe space for Jackass wannabes and giggling babies.


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Sunday, September 16, 2012
The Psychology of Writing the Admission Essay
In a recent New York times blog, the Dean of Admissions at a small, liberal arts college in California declared that the admission essay is "the one component of your application where you have full control over the outcome". Hmm. Seems to me that really, intelligence and hard work can also earn us a perfect SAT score or at least a 4.0 GPA, but his point is well taken. By the time you've reached the admission essay portion of the application process, it is too late to change your grades and scores. Whatever leverage you have left lies with the admission essay. For most students, that prospect is overwhelming. From this Dean's perspective, however, the admission essay is a student's most powerful ammunition.

Electing to look at the admission essay as an effective tool rather than a crushing burden may not be easy, but could be a highly effective psychological shift. As a general rule, stress is caused by our very human fear of losing control over life situations. Inherent in the college admissions process is an almost total lack of control (and a lot of waiting). We can prepare for years, but for most of us, there is always that one failing grade-- that one botched test-- that we cannot erase from our record. We thus arrive at the door of university admission forced to hand over a slightly less perfect version of ourselves than we'd hoped.

And then there's this shot at an admission essay. Here we are, in the eleventh hour, offered a small but potent little chance to realign our fates. Maybe. Why not take control here? We cannot guarantee that our reader will love what we write about, love what we do, or care about our passions. What we can do is write something memorable, and do it well. I think this is true whether the author is 17 or 34. It isn't about having scaled Mount Everest, it's about exploring the way we feel about something-anything. And if we approach it feeling like we have control over its outcome, we might have just that.


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Monday, September 10, 2012
Technology and the College Application
I'll admit, it's been a long time since I applied to college. Back in those days, we still did everything on paper. We even wrote things by hand. I had to send a check in with each application in order to cover the required fee. The biggest panic-besides the deadline-was making sure the inkjet printer didn't need a new cartridge. I did type my admission essay.

Today, technology and the Common Application have completely transformed the college application process. Students can apply to a greater number of colleges with considerable ease. The Common Application has even dispensed with the old-fashioned idea of tailoring essays and applications to each individual college. The one-size-fits-all approach means that students are improving their odds by casting a wider net.

Like any progress, this comes with obvious pitfalls. Just like the olden days, it is the simplest foreseeable mistakes that usually catch us in their webs. (For example, the printer running out of ink in the hour before the application was due in the mailbox). Computers can be finicky, and so can on-line applications. If your computer is on the blink, make sure there is a back-up machine where you can save your work. Oh, and save your work. You don't have to fill out the application all at once, but you also don't want to have to start from scratch when you go back to it. Expect the worst and hope for the best. Don't rule out power outages, internet problems or wireless failures.

When it comes to college applications, the march of time doesn't change the rule of thumb: don't leave everything until the last minute. Technology is faster until it isn't. Stay one step ahead of it.


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Monday, September 3, 2012
The Art of Bragging
If you're a student currently embroiled in the admission-essay writing process, then you'll appreciate this missive from Paula Marantz Cohen-an English professor at Drexel University: "Why I Hate the College Application Essay: Should Bragging be a Prerequisite for College?". Students feeling disgruntled will find some vindication in her theory that the college admission essay is a complete waste of time.

And yet--for college hopefuls-avoiding the admission essay or protesting is not an option. Yes, like filing income taxes and waiting in line at the DMV, students must roll up their sleeves and attack the essay like the chore it is.

Cohen is right on about the tediousness of the standard essay. When colleges ask students to describe themselves, they can hardly expect a writer to lay bare their fallibilities. Honesty may be what colleges are asking for, but it isn't what they are going to get. Who's ever fully sincere at a job interview?

Most seventeen-year-olds haven't experienced much. It's just the nature of life. So they are forced to exaggerate mundane experiences or milk the life out of unfortunate ones. Every editor has read an essay that is either too arrogant or too maudlin. At seventeen, these things are hard to calibrate. But what do the admissions committees expect? As a general rule, most middle class American kids don't have a lot of compelling stories. So the two-week volunteer post in Nicaragua is central to their college resume.

Colleges could turn the tide in one sweeping gesture by changing the question. The more bizarre the better (If you could be any kind of tree, what kind would you be and why?). Force students to circumvent what has become an incredibly formulaic genre. Avoid making self-puffery an art form and allow them, as Cohen suggests, to evaluate the world around them.

After all, it is when we look outside of ourselves that we gain real perspective on the world. This is precisely what colleges are truly looking for.


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Monday, August 27, 2012
The Real Effects of Diversity
How do we measure the benefits of diversity in the classroom? Affirmative action in higher education is a hot-button political topic. From a philosophical standpoint, each side has valid arguments. But what about the real effects of affirmative action policies? How do we evaluate them?

Generally, the abolition of affirmative action policies at the university level is followed by a quantifiable drop in student admission among certain racial groups, most notably African-American and Latino students. The reasons behind the declining numbers are always up for divisive political discussion, but the statistics themselves are clear.

For proponents of affirmative action, trends such as these are cause for concern. What are the unintended downsides to a lack of racial diversity in the educational environment? Do all non-white students need to be evaluated according to their race, as well as their scholastic aptitude? Why are students of color disproportionately affected by the absence of affirmative action policies?

If these statistics are food for thought, they certainly only paint half the picture. Sure, affirmative action appears to give a leg up to many non-white students. But how does the prohibition of affirmative negatively impact all students. A recent study may shed some light.

Over the past decade, several university professors have been collecting empirical data from over 6,500 students at 50 different law schools. The survey attacks two primary questions: 1) do students differ by race upon entering law school and 2) do any differences "contribute educational benefits to students, institutions, or society?" The answer, according to this study, is a resounding "yes".

The surveyed students reported that diversity in the classroom contributed to an overall broader world-view. The presence of students from a wide spectrum of social and cultural experiences forced all students to better evaluate people, situations and problems from different perspectives.

Even empirical studies are subject to criticism, but evaluations such as these may prove critical in enhancing a very divisive discussion on race and higher education. For an abbreviated article in the National Law Journal and link to the original study, click here: The National Law Journal .


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Sunday, August 19, 2012
Obama Administration Shows Support for Affirmative Action
As I've written many times before, few topics are more controversial than affirmative action in college admissions. Political middle ground on this issue is almost impossible to find. And while the consideration of race in college admissions is still prohibited in many states, the issue continues to simmer.

This autumn, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case filed in 2008 by a white student who was denied admission. Abigail Fisher claims that the university's failure to offer her a spot at the university was a result of discrimination. The University of Texas does consider race as one component in the overall evaluation of student applications.

This week, the Obama Administration weighed in, making perhaps its opinion on affirmative action fairly clear. Historically, the president has suggested that any preferential treatment in college admissions should be skewed along socioeconomic-not racial lines. In a friends of court brief, several departments within the administration stated that racial preference in college admissions is something colleges should consider in an effort to create opportunity for students of color, and diversity to the student body.

Texas is unique in some respects. Its universities automatically offer college admission to the top 10% of high school students statewide. This policy has had the net effect of increasing enrollment for non-white students. Still, Texas universities do consider race in a nod to the value of diversity in the educational environment.

With the presidential election less than 90 days away, this symbolic statement could stir political tensions. However, the Supreme Court's ruling is unlikely to have much effect upon many of the country's largest states. California-which has its own laws on the books preventing consideration of race in college admissions, would be unaffected by the decision.

However, if the US Supreme Court made a grand statement in simply agreeing to hear the case, the Obama Administration followed suit by publicly taking a side. Oral arguments begin in October.


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Tuesday, August 14, 2012
The Art of Writing the Admission Essay
Revision is when you do what you should have done the first time, but didn't.

So says Colson Whitehead in his recent engaging treaty "How to Write" NY Times . While Whitehead's article is addressed to aspiring writers, and not just desperate college hopefuls, his tips are relevant and easy to digest.

Proofreading is just one of his eleven bullet points. He also tells us that writer's block can be a tool and-one of my regular personal favorites "never use three words when one will do". Still, he delivers his counsel with bite. Admission essay how-to guides tend to be scrubbed clean of charisma. There is certainly a formula for a solid admission essay. But for students searching for a bit more inspiration probably need more than ordinary bullet points.

Whitehead advises would-be scribes to get out and live life. After all, the best writing is the fruit of rich life experience. Young students with limited life adventures may have to rely instead on fertile imaginations. I'm not suggesting that students fabricate experiences in their admissions essays. I am suggesting that students exploit their creative sides in order to harvest interesting sprigs of ordinary life.

After all, admissions officers are simply looking for something that humanizes an applicant. They do not need extraordinary. Whitehead doesn't say it in so many words, but revision isn't simply about correcting mistakes. It is about uncovering weaknesses that weren't even visible during the first, second, or fifteenth read. You'd be surprised at what you might find buried within your own words.

And if this is all just literary for you, well-maybe you should sit down and try reading it again.


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Tuesday, August 7, 2012
No Downside in Starting Admissions Essays Early
Just because something is good for us, doesn't mean we are inclined to do it. Going for a run. Putting down that cupcake. Starting to put money in a retirement account. All good ideas. In theory.

Which makes it difficult for me to suggest-again-that students begin to think of starting their college admissions essays now. During the late, hot summer. There is simply no downside to starting early. For most students, admissions deadlines are somewhere between November and January. Starting work in August means students can bank several months of time during which they can revise, proofread, and reconsider what they have written.

Starting early helps to take the pressure off. Students can easily become suffocated by time constraints come autumn. Suddenly they are juggling senior year activities with the pressure of applications, essays, letters of recommendation, and more.

If you are looking for essay feedback, it makes sense to give your editor plenty of time. Cramming it in their in-box a day before it is due does no one any good. Starting earlier means that you have more time to put your admission essay in front of many eyes. Teachers, parents, guidance counselors, or college coaches.

Finally, for students considering applying Early Action or Early Decision, starting the admission essay may be essential. The upside of early entry programs is the increased odds of admissions. One downside is that some essays are due around the start of November.

This isn't the first time I've suggested making good use of summer and starting those admissions essays. With several weeks left, it may not be the last.


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Sunday, July 29, 2012
Brevity in your Admission Essay
Any editor will tell you that one of the more difficult parts of their job is omitting without offending. That is, most of us have a tendency to 'overwrite'. This is nowhere truer in a setting like the admission essay. Why?

Overdoing it in your admissions essay is a little like blubbering in an interview. We are nervous. In the process of putting our best foot forward, our thoughts get jumbled and sail out the door-right along with our ability to filter them. Fortunately, admissions essays are on paper. Unlike a live interview, a writer has an infinite number of opportunities to revise and perfect.

The best of authors know this. On brevity, William Faulkner famously said, "In writing, you must kill all of your darlings". Sometimes, that is exactly what it feels like. Take, for instance, writing about a great accomplishment. Quite often students will feel proud, passionate, excited, energized and committed about a certain achievement. They will use each one of these adjectives. Admit it, you already stopped paying attention to that sentence; it had too many commas.

Each of those sentiments is a little different. I appreciate that. But you can still convey your point without expressing every single emotion you feel about something.

When you are writing to impress, it is tempting to overreach when you are trying to make your point. For most students, the admission essay feels like the one chance for a big sell. Just remember the adage "less is more". It works in all kinds of advertising.

And with that, I'll hope that I've made my point.


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Monday, July 23, 2012
Using Imagination to Pick the Right College
Last month I wrote about the ways in which rankings influence students' decisions about what college to attend. I do buy into the idea that the best fit for a particular student isn't necessarily a big name school. Certainly, for students with very specific professional aspirations, school name may matter more. But this isn't the main reason students gravitate towards big name schools.

I say, the number one reason students pick the wrong schools is lack of imagination. Selecting a college is really just a labor-intense shopping trip. The currency may be test scores and admissions essays, but the process is a lot like any consumer experience. Let's take your iPhone, for example. Is it the best possible smart phone on the market, or is it just the most popular?

Obscure liberal arts colleges in upstate New York just lack the glamorous sizzle of NYU. USC and UCLA look good on sweatshirts. They're also near Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Cool.

At seventeen, it is difficult to know what you want from the future. We're all drawn to the familiar. And if you don't know exactly what you're looking for, it makes sense to turn to the brand that everyone else is buying.

The problem is that there is always a downside to picking a college for the wrong reasons. Big, famous campuses have larger class sizes. It is easy to get lost in the crowd. Applying to the Ivies (with a 6-9% acceptance rate) might prove to be a side-swipe to a young student's confidence.

So sit down and really think about it. Listen to other students on sites like Ask yourself the tough questions. Why is this your dream school? You might find the answer to be surprising.


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