Thursday, April 30, 2015

Beyond the College App Essay: "Where else are you applying to college?"

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The Common Application organization revealed a new application question last week  - not an essay prompt, but an actual question - that's been kicking up dust in higher education circles.
This is from my latest Huffington Post blog post, "Not Just the College App Essay: 'Where Else Are You Applying?'" about the new question the Common Application organization will be asking on behalf of some member colleges and universities this coming season - 2015-16 - and what it might mean for you. 
"Many of us feel the college app process isn't complicated or stressful enough (NOT!), so the good people at the Common Application, which creates and oversees the application you love so much (NOT!), recently announced a new question for the upcoming season that has sparked a lot of debate.
"According to an article, "Inappropriate Question?" in Inside Higher Ed, "The Common Application is planning to let colleges add a question for applicants that some admissions leaders believe is unethical and will encourage more gaming of the admissions process. The question: Where else are you applying?" It's not clear yet whether all colleges will ask this on their Common App supplements and/or whether the question will be optional, and how clearly students will understand that it's optional, if it is. In other words, will the question be posed in such a way that students will feel pressure to answer it and to understand what it might reveal? As of this writing, we don't know the answers to these questions." READ MORE
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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

New Common App College Essay Prompts 2.0 are Here!

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Please take a look at my latest Huffington Post blog on the big college news of the day: the announcement of the new Common App essay prompts for 2015-16.

Here's the start of my article. To finish it, click on the link below. 
"This is big news in the college application world. It's not quite landing on the moon or Beyoncé having a baby, but the twittosphere is aflame this morning. The Common Application organization has just released the essay prompts for the upcoming year. Though applications aren't due until late in the fall for most students, the arrival of the prompts marks the start of the season.
"The good news is that there are few major changes from the past two years, and that the Common Application made what changes it did in response to thousands of reactions from members (the colleges and universities themselves) and the general public. Hats off to the Common App for inviting us to be part of the conversation!
"The bad news -- though I may be alone in feeling this -- is that my favorite question fell by the wayside: Describe a place where you feel perfectly content. Some of the most engaging essays my clients ever wrote were in response to that prompt. One described his lifelong love of German opera, another his passion for being lost. I'm going to think positively about the very engaging replacement question about problem solving.
"Now, for the winning prompts -- and my initial thoughts about them. As in previous years, students can write up to 650 words on just one of these. READ MORE
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Friday, March 6, 2015

Vote on Common App Essay Prompts - and News!

I just came across this survey from the Common Application organization. You have until Monday March 9 to vote on what you think about the Common App essay prompts that have been in use for the last two years. 

I will be closely monitoring the news feeds from the Common Application organization in the coming days. I'm told by sources that they will announce the prompts for the upcoming application season in mid-March - even though the on-line application itself does not go live until August 1st - and most colleges do not announce their own supplements for some time.

Beyond the date, I have no information about the content of the prompts, but I'm hoping that they remain the same as they've been for the last two years. I think those five prompts have been terrific, and allowed students to write well and unselfconsciously about things that matter to them - and that show schools who they are. 

For those new to the application game, the Common App essays are the foundation of the application essays for 500+ colleges and universities. In previous years, students have had to write one essay - from 250 to 650 words - from a list of prompts/topics that the organization and its members (these 500+ colleges) agree upon. As I say, I'm hoping they leave everything in place for this coming year, but who knows?

Many other colleges and universities require additional essays - called supplementary essays, and some schools, including a number of big state universities (CA, TX, WI) as well as MIT are outside the Common App system entirely and require their own essays.

If you have questions or concerns about doing the essays or about your high school son or daughter doing them - or about other aspects of the application process - drop me a line.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Grieve, Grumble & Get Up~And Start Writing More College App Essays

This is a big week - a gigantic week - for tens of thousands of early action and early decision applicants from around the globe. Whether it's you or your child who is about to hear Yes, No, or Maybe from a first-choice school, please take a look at my advice on my latest Huff Po piece, "Grieve, Grumble and Get Up: Time for More College App Essays."  Here are a few excerpts and links to the whole piece. 

"Those clever folks at MIT have made something of a numbers joke about when early action admissions decisions will be announced: this coming Saturday, at 3:16 P.M. What? When you write it in numerals, it looks like this: 12/13/14 15:16. But the news will not be fun or funny for the great majority of those who receive it, since MIT's early action admit rate is a bit under 10 percent -- and overall, it's 7.9 percent. (For those who want a thorough, MIT-style breakdown of numbers for the class entering in 2014, click here.)

"The next few days -- with many schools announcing on Dec. 15 and Yale, to my knowledge, on December 16 -- will be exciting, fraught, gleeful, and agonizing for tens of thousands of young men and women across the globe, from Alaska to Zanzibar. As the news comes in, dreams will feel realized and disappointments will pile up.

"What to do with all of this high emotion? Here are some thoughts for parents, students, and family members.

"If the answer is YES from a first-choice school, parents and children should talk about when and how to announce it to others, either personally or on social media. Understand that most people will be happy for you, and that some might well feel more envy than shared joy. Be prepared. In your announcements, consider expressing an attitude of gratitude, not entitlement or triumph.
"If the answer is YES from a first-choice school, think long and hard about whether you need to make further applications to other schools. If financial aid is a major consideration, and you can anticipate a better offer, that's important, but if you're merely applying elsewhere to see how you do, take a moment to decide whether that's necessary, given that other students might really want that additional school, or those additional schools, as their first-choice. Of course, there are wait-lists, but they push decision-making to the limits for everyone involved. Short version: Celebrate your success and let others have theirs." READ MORE

Friday, December 5, 2014

45 Ways to Avoid "Very" in Your Common App & College App Essays

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As you put finishing touches on your college application essays - the Common Application and the supplements - comb them for uses of the word "very" and then study this terrific list.

Very? What's wrong with the word "very"? Doesn't it strengthen the word it modifies? Well, actually, no. Today on, I stumbled upon a wonderful list of words to replace the word "very." Instead of saying "very tired," substitute "exhausted." Instead of "very big," "immense," instead of "very bright," "dazzling," and instead of "very thin," try "gaunt."

Read your essays one more time to make sure the language is as colorful, precise, and powerful as it can be. This list might well help you when it comes to "very" and every other word. 

Here's a chart with the whole list, and here's the rationale from the Stumbled Upon Introduction: 

"Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be." ~Mark Twain
"'Very' is the most useless word in the English language and can always come out. More than useless, it is treacherous because it invariably weakens what it is intended to strengthen." ~Florence King
"So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys - to woo women - and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays." ~N.H. Kleinbaum

 Click here to see the full list of 45 words.

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Truthiness Behind College Admit Rates~Don't Panic!

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My last four posts have been about the mad rush to apply to too many schools. Today's New York Times tracks the trend with some actual numbers in "For Accomplished Students, Reaching a Good College Isn't as Hard as it Seems." Kevin Carey's piece tries to assure applicants - and their parents! - that the dire figures lodged in our brains do not tell the whole story. 

Here's an excerpt, but it's worth reading the entire article:

"Earlier this year, Harvard announced that it had accepted 5.9 percent of the nearly 35,000 students who applied for admission to the class of 2018. The next day, Stanford announced an even more exacting 5.07 percent admission rate, the lowest in the university’s history.

"Statistics like these have come to dominate the national narrative of elite college admissions, with each new batch of ever-more-minuscule success rates fueling a collective sense that getting into a good college has become a brutal, “Hunger Games"-style tournament that only the fittest survive.

"That story is wrong. For well-qualified students, getting into a good college isn’t difficult. It probably isn’t that much harder than it was generations ago. The fact that everyone believes otherwise shows how reliance on a single set of data — in this case, institutional admission rates — can create a false sense of what’s really going on.

"To start, it’s worth noting that the headline-inducing single-digit rates reported by Harvard and Stanford are unusual even for elite institutions. Washington University in St. Louis, ranked 14th nationally by U.S. News & World Report, admitted 17 percent of applicants this year. Notre Dame admitted 21 percent, Wellesley 28 percent, and the University of Michigan 32 percent. Still, those numbers are low and have been declining in each case." READ MORE 

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Shrinking Your List of College App Essays & Supplements

Got the college app essay blues? The best way to shrink the list of essays you need to write between now and January 1st is to shrink your list of colleges. There's no magic solution as to how to do it. Without question - sorry, guys - It involves some work. In the end, though, it could save you time, money, and stress. 

As I said in my recent Huffington Post piece, "How Many College Apps (and College App Essays) are Too Many?" the first rule is to apply to schools that you actually want to attend, or that you have some reason for wanting to attend. 

Have you visited the school? Does it have an atmosphere or programs that interest you and suit your needs? Is there something about the curriculum - the courses required of you to graduate - that is either hugely appealing - or might be a real turn-off? Do you even know what's offered and required at these many schools to which you're applying?

How will you know any of these things? Each school's website is a place to start, but websites are sources of information as well as advertisements. They will not give you the low-down on what it's really like to be a student in these places. These three resources will give you another perspective: 1. College Prowler - tons of statistics and up-to-date student comments about every aspect of the institution. 2. The Insider's Guide to the Collegesedited by the Yale Daily News - a sassy, student's-eye view of some 350 colleges and universities, arranged by state. 3. The Best 378 Colleges, full of great stats and quotes from students and administrations about what each school offers.

There is a reason for the idea that you should choose schools in three categories: reach, target, safety. If you choose well, you do not need 10 in each category. If you have done your homework and are choosing schools that are suitable for you - and your family's budget - the list should be much smaller than that. 

If you need help with the process or the essays, please visit my website, Don't Sweat the Essay, or drop me a line: Or pick up the phone: 1-855-99-ESSAY.