Saturday, August 16, 2014

Live Q/A College Applications & Essays~Wed. Aug. 20~Cambridge, MA

Rising seniors. Frantic parents. 'Tis the season.... I'm excited to speak on Wed. Aug. 20 - 7PM - at one of my favorite bookstores, Porter Square Books at Porter Square, Cambridge, MA, about how to approach applying to college in 2014, with a few favorite books to help out. Bring a parent, bring a son or daughter, a notebook (or phone or iPad), and your questions. Please join me for this free event. For details, CLICK HERE

From the bookstore's description of the event: 

"Everyone says so: Back in the day, applying to college was so much easier. These days, it can be like mounting a presidential campaign. Many factors have contributed to the madness, but once families understand the different components of the process, it is more manageable. Noted author Elizabeth Benedict and her company Don't Sweat the Essay specialize in helping students create application essays that work, whether students need help only with the Common Application essay or a dozen or more that are sometimes required, depending on each school's requirements. 

"Elizabeth will share her wisdom in a lively 45-minute discussion, with plenty of time for questions and answers. She will offer books to consult and practical tips for parents and students. She writes about these issues frequently for Huffington Post. Please visit her website for more information:"

Interested but can't attend? Email me:
Phone: 1-855-99-ESSAY


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Get Smart: How to Approach the 5 College Common App Essay Prompts

The Common Application - on-line August 1, 2014 - offers the same five essays prompts as last year. I think they're terrific questions that can easily lead to lively, quirky, very personal essays. I'm tempted to say which prompts are my favorites, but I'll refrain, because I don't want anyone to think that answering one question is better for an applicant than answering any of the others. The variety of prompts is there to try to speak to everyone, to give all applicants at least one question that will open them up to talking about themselves in a meaningful way.
As you go through the prompts, or as you go through them with your son or daughter, be sure to keep this in mind: This is the student's essay, not the parent's. Parents sometimes have ideas about what their children should write about and even what they should say. I can't emphasize this strongly enough: let the student choose. The essay will be better. The essay will be authentic. It will belong to the student.
And keep in mind that even though the questions are user friendly, even a little chatty, you are applying to an educational institution, for the position of "student." The questions want you to reflect more on how you think and process information, knowledge, and experience, rather than on your feelings, your friends, and/or your Netflix activity.
Prompt #1. Some students have a background or a story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. The first student I showed this to said, "This is the diversity question." It could be, if that's an essential feature of someone's identity, but the question is much more open-ended. It invites you to talk about anything from being a triplet to growing up in Alaska; from growing up on a farm to having a particular medical condition.
Prompt #2. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn. Discussing "failure" is a tricky proposition. You don't want to seem like someone who fails regularly or spectacularly. But if, for instance, you have academic absence to explain (you flunked out of school and then returned and are now a great student), this might be a good place to tell that story, with the emphasis on "what you learned." There are other "failure stories" that are fine too.
3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again? I think this is a great question for students who are activists and others who have challenged policies promoted by church, school, government, or their families. The incident you describe could be speaking up at Thanksgiving dinner or organizing a campaign to promote sex education or LGBT tolerance. Be sure to keep the focus on what you did, and not the details of the issue. You're not trying to persuade the reader to take your side. You're describing your role in challenging an idea.
4. Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you? This seems to be a popular question, and can encompass anyplace from a science lab to a swimming pool. I try to steer students away from places that are too comfortable. "I feel perfectly content in bed listening to my iPod and watching The Hunger Games'" is a topic I would avoid, unless there is a specific backstory that would make this set-up "meaningful." In other words, it might represent a triumph of some kind.
5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family. Several weeks ago, I was surprised to see an essay counselor on-line say that since people don't become "adults" until they are older, this question seems misguided. I couldn't disagree more. At every age, we are always marking transitions, and there are rarely any clear lines. There are indeed specific moments when children feel more grown up and when teenagers feel more like adults than they did the day before. The question is an occasion to consider such a moment, experience, or accomplishment.
To visit my website: Don't Sweat The Essay  Email me: Phone me: 1-855-99-ESSAY.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

College App Essay Makes Doonesbury

I've been saying for some time that the college application essay genre is becoming the most popular in the country. Today, it's the subject of a Doonesbury cartoon. The issue - what happens when Mom helps write the essay for her daughter.... What could possibly go wrong? Have a look here. And enjoy. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Correct Info About College App Essays on Universal Application

The Universal Application is a newcomer to the electronic college application field that got an unexpected boost last year, when the Common Application introduced a new system that had "issues" for many months. Because all the application eggs had been put into that one basket, thousands of students and universities were scrambling for alternatives, and the Universal App provided them with a different application. It was not identical to the Common App, and one way it was different was that it required a 500-word essay - instead of the 650-word essay that many students had prepared, intending to use it for the Common App.

This year, The Universal Application has upped their game with a 650-word essay on any topic - so the Common App essay can also be used here too. This will make it all the easier to use for those applying to any of the 50 +/- schools in this list, including Harvard, Princeton, University of Chicago, Brandeis, Johns Hopkins, and many others - click here for the list. 

Yet in recent days and weeks, I have been surprised by several websites and tweeters who should know better who are passing on incorrect information about the essay component of the Universal Application. As I read the Universal Application - and you can read it here too - an essay of up to 650 words is indeed required. 

For help with your essay at any stage of the process, please shoot me an email or call me:  1-855-99-ESSAY.

For more on my services, visit my website and my blog:
Don't Sweat The Essay
Don't Sweat The Essay Blog

Sunday, July 20, 2014

UPDATE! 10 Tips 4 Staying Sane While Applying to College & Writing College App Essays

For those who couldn't make it to my talk at the Oak Bluff's public library in Massachusetts, here's the hand-out I distributed at the talk.

1. Bear in mind: It's normal to feel like you are going crazy. The process creates that, and the current atmosphere contributes. You have lots of company. It's not you, it's today's system. 

2.  Bear in mind: There is an end date to the crazy. It won't go on forever, even though it feels like it will. 

3.  Don't Pull an All-Nighter the Night Before - AKA: Start Early
Whether it's your search for the right college, your contacting teachers for letters of recommendation or writing your application essays (yes, often it's more than one essay), give yourself plenty of time. What's the right timetable? It's ideal to have your list of colleges by summer before application, with all the requirements and required essays spelled out; to have a good draft of the Common App essay by the time you return to school in the fall. If you're applying to schools with many supplementary essays, be sure to understand that early and plan accordingly. If you have a very busy school-year schedule and many essays, use your time in the summer to do them.

4. Submit Your Applications Some Time Before the Due Dates. 
Last year, the Common Application organization had massive computer problems, and many thousands of students, teachers, and colleges had to work around them, under tremendous stress. This is a useful lesson: If you wait until the last days, you will be pressing SEND with HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of other students. Website crashes happen. 

Make a Chart. Share it with Your Parents. Keep it visible. 
As soon as you can, make a chart on paper (print it out) of all your schools, application due dates, requirements (recommendations, SAT subject tests, etc.), ESSAY REQUIREMENTS (with topics and word counts), and share it with your parents, so you can work to block out time to do everything in a timely way.

6.  Diversify, diversity, diversify. 
Pick schools smartly and pick a range. Just as financial counselors tell people to diversify their investments to spread the risk of losing money, make sure your list includes reaches, targets and safeties. It's not wise to have, say, 8 reaches and 1 safety. Research the schools and make sure your grades, scores and interests match up. Some students apply to many Ivy League and other top schools without understanding the differences between them in terms of curriculum, expectations, and atmosphere, and without understanding what the schools are looking for. Find out whether Top Dog University is the right school for you by reading about it in the resource books below and on College Prowler (  

7.  Consult resource books:
~ The Insider's Guide to the Colleges (published every year), edited by the Yale Daily News (student takes on their colleges, written by students, for students, in a lively voice).  
~ The Best 378 Colleges by the Princeton Review, new edition every year
~ K& +W Guide to College Programs & Services for Students with Learning Disabilities or AD/HD

8.  If you need financial aid, make sure you apply to schools where it would be available to you. 
Many colleges have a “Calculator” you can plug in your numbers to and learn how much aid you might qualify for. State universities, including Michigan and U California, do not generally offer scholarships to out of state students, though you may be eligible for loans.

8. Whether you're a Parent or a Student, it's Not Necessary to Share Details with Friends. 
Applying to college is a touchy subject. Who's applying where, who gets in where, and who is upset about not getting in - all add to the ordinary stresses. It may be less stressful not to share. It’s fine to say: “I think I’d rather not talk about all of this yet.” Or: “Son/daughter doesn’t want me to talk about this.”
9.  Visit the schools. Ideally, visit when school is in session.
If you are applying Early Decision (BINDING), visit the school so you can report you have visited on the application AND you can include reflections of your visit in your essay if you have to write about why you want to attend that school.

10.  Consider applying Early Decision and/or Early Action (binding vs. non-binding), so that your worries might be over by mid-December, instead of March or April. Consult each school's website to find out if they do ED or EA. 
Upside: You might have decisions by mid-December.  Downside: If you're rejected or deferred in mid-December, you have to submit applications afterwards, usually with Jan. 1 or Jan. 15 deadlines.  It's wise to do as much work as you can before mid-December.  1-855-99-ESSAY

If you can't make it to the library, please email or phone for individual support, on-island or anywhere around the world (I have worked with clients in Hong Kong, Cairo, Alaska, and Chagrin Falls, Ohio).

Monday, June 30, 2014

5 Pieces of Good News From a College Admissions Application Essay Counselor

Quick, think of five pieces of good news about college application essays. Here's my list of five from my latest Huffington Post blog, "5 Pieces of Good News from a College Admissions Application Essay Counselor." Here's #1: 

1. The good news is that there's plenty of time, but -- as Albert Einstein taught us (see "Theory of Relativity"), there are many definitions of time, depending on where you are and where you want to end up. If you have a summer crammed with work or adventure, with sports camp, math camp, internships on Capitol Hill, and/or a job scooping ice cream at the beach, you may not be able to devote many days or weeks to getting a head start on the essays -- but you can and should put your downtime to good use.
"If you're not going to tackle any of the essays, make a chart of the schools you plan to apply to and the essay prompts required at each, with the number of words and the due dates.
"Will you have to write three essays beyond the Common App essay? Will you have closer to thirteen? Can you use the same material for some essays? Are all the schools you're applying to on the Common App? To date, a few schools have revealed their supplementary essays; most should be available by August 1, when the Common Application goes live. The university synonymous with quirky essays, the University of Chicago, has posted its upcoming essays. You might enjoy the prompts even if you have no plans to apply. (Prompt #1: "What's so odd about odd numbers?")
"Once you have your preliminary list, you might see that you have less time than you imagined you did." READ MORE 
To visit my website: Don't Sweat the Essay  To email me: 
To phone me: 1-855-99-ESSAY
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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Get the Common App Essay Over with on Martha's Vineyard in July

Why not get the essay over with early in the summer? There's so much anxiety around the Common Application essay that getting it over with earlier rather than later can be a huge relief. And a learning experience. If you're applying to schools that require supplementary essays too, and many do, working with me on the Common App essay is a great way to get your writing muscles into shape and get the hang of these often challenging essays.  If you sign up with me to do your essays, I will give you a free copy of "the hippest grammar book ever written," Sin and Syntax, by Constance Hale.  She's funny, smart, and breaks down the elements of good writing with uncommon wisdom and insight. And did I mention that she's funny?

Click on my website and the Martha's Vineyard link to my July workshops. Sign up for a workshop or for private sessions - on the island and around the world via Skype and Google Docs.

To visit my website: Don't Sweat the Essay
To email me:
To call me: 1-855-99-ESSAY