Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How Many College Apps Are Too Many!?!?

There is no magic number, but I'd say that 20 and 30 are too darn many. Consider the costs, the time, the stress, and all those essays that need to be written. Here are my latest thoughts on this trend from Huffington Post:
"A recent piece in The New York Times"What is the Perfect Number of College Applications to Send?" has tapped into a disturbing trend in college applications that I've seen in my business: students applying to dozens - and dozens - of colleges. Last year, I worked with two families whose children applied to 18 colleges each, despite my encouraging them to narrow the list and conserve their resources. Resources include time, money, and emotional health.
"Each application costs money, and so does sending SAT/ACT results to each college. And many schools these days require supplementary essays. It's not just a matter of pressing SEND along with your credit card information.
"One issue that the article does not address is the application essays that accompany these dozens of applications. Because schools now receive such a flood of applications, they need more ways to distinguish between students - and ways to read between the lines to see how serious students are about attending their school. Enter the supplementary essays. Some schools ask for just one; other schools, including Tufts, Brown, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and Wake Forest, ask for upwards of three, four and sometimes six additional pieces of writing." READ MORE
Thanks for reading. To read more about my work, please visit my website: Don't Sweat the Essay or send me an email: 

Monday, September 22, 2014

College App Essays Run Amok: A Coach's Advice & a Word About Spiders

My latest thoughts on Huffington Post - some practical advice, a little history, and a little kvetching - about where we are in college application essay land this fall: 
"I know, I'm a coach. I'm supposed to do the coach thing: cheerlead, encourage, help high school students brainstorm, find great essay topics and figure out what about their interests, experiences and passions would work best on the page. In other words, help them stand out in the piles of dazzling applicants to the highly competitive University of Fill in the Blank.
"This is what I do 99 percent of the time. But there are some days and weeks when I encounter articles and trends that make me cynical about what's expected of students, what's expected of parents and where we as a country are headed. Last week was one of those weeks.
"While most of my time was spent answering questions about which prompt might work best to discuss a life-changing experience living in the woods for three months, or how to do the research to tell a college why it's your first choice, I encountered a number of disturbing news items that gave me pause about the extreme nature of the game that college admissions has become. READ MORE 
For a consultation, please contact me: or 1-855-99-ESSAY. Visit my website: Don't Sweat the Essay. And please repost this if you wish.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Missing Supplements-Yes, There ARE Essays!

Thanks to consultant Jeannie Borin for her very useful information about this year's Common Application.  Among her two most salient pieces of information are these: 

When you look for the essay supplements for many schools on the Common App, you may not easily find them, but they are often there under the drop down menu under the "questions" tab.  And: you may only submit three different versions of your Common App essay. In order to make changes, you must "unlock" your application. As she says, "You cannot make any changes to an essay once it is submitted."  Here's more! 

• "The most confusing change this year is that although many colleges look like they don't have a writing supplement on the College Tab, they do! That writing supplement can now be found under that college's drop down menu under the questions tab. It is essential to comb the application thoroughly and look at every drop down menu, as some essay prompts may be more difficult to find. This could be overlooked if students are not aware."

• "The essay can be revised twice for no more than three revisions. This is a crucial point and one that often gets missed by students. In order to make changes to an essay after you submit an application to a college, students will need to unlock their applications. Students cannot make any changes to an essay once it is submitted to a college. You can unlock again up to a maximum of three revisions. Any remaining colleges would receive your last essay version." READ MORE

Need help with your college application essays? Common App, supplements, state university personal statements. Please send me an email or call me:  or 1-855-99-ESSAY.  And visit my website: Don't Sweat the Essay.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Step 1- Common App - Let the Popcorn Fly

When you start writing your college application essays, don't censor yourself. Choose a topic that really interests you, make a loose outline (a 4 or 5 paragraph essay), and then just write, so you can find out what your material is without inhibition. Think of it as making popcorn without a lid. Once the material is down on the screen/page, look for the best stuff - the smartest points, the best writing, the most revealing insights - and start to edit - AKA cleaning up the popcorn. Expect to do three or four drafts. Check back later this week for more tips. UPDATE: Here's a revised post about the Common App prompts that I promised. Hope it's useful.

Which colleges have done most to support low-income students?

A breakdown of which colleges have made the most serious efforts to make admission possible for low and lower-income students .... Worth reading this Times article and studying the numbers...

"Over the last decade, dozens of colleges have proclaimed that recruiting a more economically diverse student body was a top priority. Many of those colleges have not matched their words with actions. But some have.

"These colleges have changed policies and made compromises elsewhere to recruit the kind of talented poor students who have traditionally excelled in high school but not gone to top colleges. A surprising number of such students never graduate from any college.

"This education gap is a problem not only for the teenagers on the wrong end of it. It’s a problem for the American economy. The economic differences between college graduates and everyone else have reached record levels. Yet for many low-income children – even many who get A’s in high school and do well on the SAT – college remains out of reach. No wonder that upward mobility is less common in the United States than in many other rich countries.  READ MORE

Need help with your college application essays? Common App, supplements, state university personal statements. Please send me an email or call me:  or 1-855-99-ESSAY.  And visit my website: Don't Sweat the Essay.

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:"

Need help with your college application essays? Common App, supplements, state university personal statements. Please send me an email or call me:  or 1-855-99-ESSAY.  And visit my website: Don't Sweat the Essay

Thursday, July 31, 2014

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

Always check for my latest blog by clicking HERE.

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 family arrangement you grew up with. If something doesn't come to mind right away, this probably isn't the prompt for you.
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, but if you have a story (that answers another prompt) that accentuates the positive rather than the negative, that might be a better direction to move in. 
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 is a popular question, and can encompass anyplace from a science lab to a swimming pool, from a specific activity to a state of being or mind you try to attain. If you love a particular subject or an activity related to a particular subject, that could be a terrific essay. If you're great at math and you participate in math competitions, writing about a competition you were in could be a good topic. "Perfectly content" does not need to mean that you're on vacation on the beach. You can be deeply engaged in something complex and be "perfectly content." 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. Remember, this is a three-part question: describe the place; what happens to you there; why is it meaningful - in other words, how does it connect to your ambitions, your goals, your interests. 
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. It can be a specific event or a series of events that took place over a limited period of time. It can be about an understanding or insight that gave you academic or personal direction you didn't have before, or a responsibility you had to assume that made you feel more mature. It needn't be quite so literal as "yesterday I was a kid, now I'm adult." It can be more nuanced than that. 
To visit my website: Don't Sweat The Essay  Email me: Phone me: 1-855-99-ESSAY.