In all of our years working with students navigating the highly selective college admissions process, one takeaway we have is that college admissions essay writing is quite bad overall. It’s so bad in fact that several years go by between instances in which we read very good college essays that we had no hand in helping shape. That’s right — that college essay that you think is fantastic is probably closer to terrible than fantastic. This dearth of good college essays speaks to the fact that high school students in this country (and you should read the college essays from international students as those are, understandably, even worse) tend not to be able to write particularly well. In fact, to put it in the vernacular, their writing just plain sucks.
So if you think that your child is a good writer, know that statistically speaking, he probably isn’t. And just because he got a perfect score on the writing portion of his SAT, that doesn’t mean that he can craft powerful and moving college admissions essays either. Because he probably can’t. To accomplish this, a student needs to have a firm grasp of the English language and a unique writing style. Surprisingly, few do. And by few, we mean that every several years one outstanding high schooler’s essays just plain surprise us. But imagine how many college admissions essays we read in between those years! Thousands and thousands.
Students have the opportunity to showcase their unique voices to college admissions officers in their college admissions essays, but it’s the rare exception when they actually are able to accomplish this feat. If you’re a parent, chances are slim that your child is the exception to this rule. If you’re a student, we hate to break the news to you but unless you’re a major outlier, your writing probably isn’t as good as you think it is. Sorry to break this news to you.Categories: College Essays Tags: College Admissions Essay Writing, College Essay Writing, Ivy League Admissions Essay Writing, University Admissions Essay Writing, University Essay Writing
There was an article yesterday in the newspaper of the University of Pennsylvania, “The Daily Pennsylvanian,” in which our Founder, Bev Taylor, is quoted that focuses on admissions officers disclosing on social media what is written in college essays. One admissions officer in particular, a former Penn admissions officer by the name of Nadirah Farah Foley blatantly violated the trust of the Penn admissions office by posting excerpts of applicants’ college essays on her Facebook page. Can you imagine? When applicants write essays, the good ones reveal personal anecdotes about who they are and what they’re all about. But what if applicants couldn’t trust that sentences from their essays wouldn’t end up on Twitter or Facebook.
According to “The Daily Pennsylvanian,” “In one essay, a student had written about his ‘long and deep’ connections to the University, citing the fact that he had been circumcised at Penn Hillel years ago. ‘I look forward to engaging in the academic, social and Orthodox Jewish communities on campus,’ the student wrote, according to Foley’s post. ‘Stop the madness,’ Foley said in response to the essay on Facebook.” Oy vey. And an appropriate oy vey! First, a student really wrote that in his essay? While it is quite funny, it’s not appropriate for a college essay unfortunately. But then this admissions officer posted these lines online? Double oy vey.
Deans of admission at highly selective colleges can make their staff members sign agreements of confidentiality all they want. The fact is that many college admissions officers are hired right out of college. Many work in admissions for years — don’t get us wrong — but there is still a sizable portion of the field that hails directly from college without passing go. It’s their first job. They’re going to make mistakes like this, especially in the age of social media. What do you think can be done to stop this from happening going forward? Let us know your thoughts on the matter by posting below!Categories: College Essays, College Social Media Tags: Facebook and Admissions Essays, Facebook and College Admissions, Facebook and College Essays, Facebook and University Essays, FB and College Essays
On this Valentine’s Day, we’re going to be writing about college app essays and how you should absolutely, positively not in any way discuss your love life. You should also not discuss your love life in college interviews, with your teachers, or with your guidance counselor. Because you don’t want your teachers or your guidance counselor writing about how all you do is talk about this boy or that girl in your letter of recommendation. If you write about a boyfriend or girlfriend in your college essay, you run the risk of a college admissions counselor gagging. Nobody wants to read about a sixteen year-old falling in love with the love of his or her life. It’s great that you’ve fallen in love at such a young age — that’s wonderful for you — but just avoid writing about it. Avoid talking about it.
It doesn’t shed insight into who you are and what you’re all about. It doesn’t set you apart as unique. It doesn’t demonstrate your intellectual curiosity and love of learning. Elle Woods didn’t actually get into Harvard Law! So, whatever you do, make sure that your college essays don’t revolve around a boy who has nice eyes or a great smile. Don’t write about how another girl is cheer captain and you’re on the bleachers (sorry, Taylor Swift). Nobody cares. Not your teachers. Not your guidance counselor. Not the admissions counselor reviewing your college application.
Happy Valentine’s Day! But if you applied Regular Decision to colleges, don’t send your regional admissions counselor a Valentine’s Day card! Were you seriously thinking about doing that? Oy vey! If you were even considering doing it, we wonder what other mistakes you’ve made in the highly selective college admissions process!Categories: College Essays Tags: College Admissions App Essays, College App Essays, Ivy League App Essays, University Admissions App Essays, University App Essays
Have you ever received the college admission essay advice to just be yourself? You’re told to be yourself throughout life — whether on dates with prospective romantic interests, on job interviews, on social media sites, etc. And you’re told to showcase who you are and what you’re all about in your college admissions essays as well. So you should be yourself in these essays, right? Wrong. Well, it absolutely depends.
If you’re someone who plays soccer and all you ever talk about is soccer and all you know is soccer, that doesn’t mean you should write about soccer in your college admissions personal statement. Even if it’s all you know and it’s what you’re all about, that makes you a boring person. Do you think college admissions counselors at highly selective colleges want to go to bat for a really boring candidate? Not so much. Sports essays, in general, are rather boring so it’s good advice to stay away from them at all cost.
And what if you’re a grade grubber who cares more about getting great grades than learning? Is this a part of yourself that you should showcase to college admissions counselors? Of course not. You shouldn’t showcase that for anyone (especially teachers and your guidance counselor — who are only going to write less positive letters of recommendation on your behalf because of it). So even if you are a grade grubber, hide your true self in college essays. Always being who you are isn’t always the best advice. There’s a fine line! Don’t cross it.Categories: College Essays Tags: Advice on College Essays, College Admission Essay Advice, College Essays Advice, Ivy League Admission Essay Advice, University Admission Essay Advice
It never ceases to amaze us how many students wait until the very last minute to do the vast majority of the work on their college applications. College essays should not be written over winter break, right before the college application deadline. They should be written way beforehand! But we suppose saying as much changes nothing since we say the same thing every year and every year we help students at the very last minute with their college applications. It’s remarkable just how many procrastinators there are among high school students.
When students write their college essays at the very last minute, there isn’t as much opportunity to revise. And good writing is about revising, revising, revising. How many rewrites can one possibly do if the first draft of a college essay isn’t written until December 28th? Not many — considering that student only has a couple of days to get that essay in. Rarely — and by rarely we mean never — do students write a fantastic college essay on their first draft. In over twenty years of offering college admissions counseling to students around the world, we’d be hard-pressed to think of a single instance when this happened. Good writing is about rewriting. It’s true of college essay writers. It’s true of professional novelists, screenwriters, and journalists.
Is it narcissism to think that one can hammer out a remarkably compelling essay on the first draft? Perhaps. Perhaps it’s just a fundamental misunderstanding of how good writing happens. Good writing happens by taking time in between drafts, to reflect a bit. Maybe something you wrote last week was terrible but it will take a week to realize it. It’s this very sort of thing that one won’t have opportunity to realize if one waits until December 28th to write college essays. So, high school juniors, don’t make these kinds of mistakes!Categories: College Admissions, College Essays, Submitting the Application Tags: College Application Deadline, College Essays Deadline, Ivy League Application Deadline, University Application Deadline, US College Application Deadlines
Every year, there are some really interesting college admissions essay questions that are posed on various applications. We applaud schools that ask fun college essay questions that make students have to think. “The Los Angeles” times recently highlighted some of the essay questions out there this admissions cycle and we wanted to bring these questions to your attention. If you’re a college junior, how do you think you would respond to such an essay question? If you’re a senior and did answer one or many of these essay questions, how did you respond? What do you think about these college essay questions? We’re curious to hear your thoughts.
At Occidental, the question posed is, “Identify and describe a personal habit or idiosyncrasy — of any nature — that helps define you.” For regular readers of our blog, you know that one of the best essays one of our students ever wrote was about a rubber-band ball. That essay would have fit nicely with this question. Wake Forest asks, “Think of things that fascinated you when you were 10 years old — what has endured?” And Caltech asks applicants, “Please describe an unusual way in which you have fun.” Caltech loves its oddballs so they’re looking for some quirky answers to this question.
Brandeis poses to applicants, “A package arrives at your door. After seeing the contents you know it’s going to be the best day of your life. What’s inside and how do you spend your day?” That’s a fun one. If you applied to Brandeis, what did you include inside the package and why? We’re curious to know. Do you think these fun essay topics are good for the college admissions process? Do you think they make it tougher? Let us know your thoughts by posting below!Categories: College Essays Tags: College Admission Questions in Essays, College Admissions Essay Questions, College Essay Questions, Ivy League Admissions Questions, University Admissions Essay Questions
In your college essays, it’s important to not simply reiterate what the rest of your college application says about you. If, for example, your major activity is playing football, don’t write about football in your personal statement. Even if you scored one heck of a touchdown against your high school’s chief rival. Even if you’re being heavily recruited for football by the university that you’re applying to. The fact is that highly selective college admissions officers want to get to know you better. They want to understand what you’re like off the gridiron.
They want to know your interests that don’t involve football. Maybe it’s reading romance novels. Maybe it’s knitting or studying transcendentalism. Maybe it’s teaching kids in your community to swim. Whatever your interests are outside of your main activity, it’s important to hang a lantern on this in your college essays. And it doesn’t have to be an interest or activity that you focus on. It can just be a story. Tell college admissions officers a story that shares insight into who you are and what you’re all about. These are the college essay subjects to focus on.
It can be a game you play with your parents. A tradition you have with your brother. A thing you like to do while you eat your breakfast. It can be about somewhere you like to go when the world has you down. There are tons of possibilities for your college essays. We encourage you not to restrict yourself to sports essays if you’re an athlete. All too often, sports essays read as trite anyway. College admissions counselors are quite often bored by sports essays and they’re bored by essays that don’t show a unique side into your personality. So show off that personality!Categories: College Essays Tags: College Essay Subjects, College Essay Topics, Subject Matter for College Essays, Subjects for College Essays, Topics for College Essays
The Common Application’s recent decision to do away with the college essay prompt offering students the chance to write on a topic of their choice is misguided. In highly selective college admissions, college admissions counselors value uniqueness. Restricting what students should write about stands against creativity. And The Common Application didn’t stop with doing away with the topic of your choice Common App. essay. They’ve also made it so that students must cut and paste their essay into the form rather than upload it. That too stymies creativity because uploads made it possible to submit such things as symbols, pictures, photographs, and drawings with essays.
Imposing a precise 500 word limit is absolutely fine, and we have no problem with that. All students are on the same level playing field. But to create obstacles that make it more difficult for a student to express his or her true self does not serve the college admissions process. So why’d they do it, you ask? Likely because big universities like Ohio State University have now joined The Common App. For the University of California schools, as an example, students are required to cut and paste their essay into a box and they are given two very specific essay prompts for two required essays. There is little room for creativity. And why’s that? Because the UC’s get approximately 150,000 applications each year, and so they want to standardize the responses to make the process run smoother. This latest move by The Common App. is in line with the University of California’s approach and the Common App. likely has the same rationale.
We urge The Common App. to reverse its unpopular decision. Let students be who they are. Let them express themselves in the way they know how within the 500 word limit. Just don’t tell them to start sentences with this word and end them with another word. Don’t tell them they need to cut and paste their essay into a box. Don’t tell them they need to write about a book that influenced them, or a significant experience in their life. Give them some credit to think for themselves. Let them shine creatively.Categories: College Essays, The Application Tags: Common App Essay, Common App Essay Prompt, Common App Essay Prompts, Common Application Essay, Common Application Essay Prompt
There’s a blog up on “The New York Times’” “The Choice” that details a student’s struggles with writing her college essays. The student, Sush Krishnamoorthy, couldn’t seem to settle on a topic. She received advice to “be herself,” “find her voice,” and “tell an interesting story.” But none of that was really helpful to her. After all, those are kind of “duh” statements. What — are you supposed to write an uninteresting story? Maybe one that doesn’t showcase your voice and doesn’t demonstrate who you are and what you’re all about? Nobody thinks that. Well, maybe some but our readers are smarter than that.
Sush ultimately settled on an essay built around the topic of flying by herself as it was an experience that touched her. Is it possible that this is a good topic for a college essay? Absolutely. Some of the best essays — as we so often say — are about small things. Too often, students write about big things and say nothing when the best writing often comes across when you write about very little (NBC’s “Seinfeld” was about absolutely nothing). Flying alone can make for a good essay topic — though it will totally depend on execution. And hopefully Sush didn’t write about traveling to an exotic location, where she dined extravagantly and went out dancing all night. Because college admissions counselors won’t like that. They don’t like it when students come across as privileged.
So the take-home message is that it’s all in the execution. There’s no reason why this plane ride couldn’t have been a life altering experience that is interesting to share in one’s college essay. But we’re more curious as to why it was a life altering experience. Why was it so meaningful? Why did it touch her? Hopefully this all came across in the college essay. If it did, it certainly could have been good.Categories: College Essays Tags: College Admissions Essay Topics, College Essay Topic, College Essay Topics, Topics for College Essays, Topics in College Essays
Citing books in college essays can be beneficial. But it all depends on how you do it (show, don’t tell) and citing books that are required reading can sometimes backfire. Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield, and Atticus Finch are all noteworthy characters in American fiction. “The Great Gatsby,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” are, after all, seminal books of American fiction. They are among the most famous and circulated books in America, and they are read in classrooms across the nation. But does that mean that you should write about these books in your college essays? Does that mean that you should cite these books when asked your favorite books in college interviews? Well, if “The Catcher in the Rye” really is your favorite book, then absolutely tell the truth. But that doesn’t mean you can’t expand on your answer by citing a few more books and explaining why you love these books.
And with the additional books, be sure to cite books that aren’t required reading in classrooms across the nation. If you’re uncertain if the book you’re citing is generally considered mandatory reading at most high schools in the United States, go to your local Barnes & Noble. Go to the classics section (it’s often on one table on the first floor). If the books you like to write and talk about are all on this classics table, then you have your answer. If there is a “SparkNotes” for the book, that’s generally a good indication that the book is a classic as well.
There’s nothing wrong with loving classics. It’s just very important in the highly selective college admissions process to demonstrate a love for learning. If all of your books that you love are required reading, what does that say about your passion for reading on your own? It doesn’t say that you like to read before you go to bed. It doesn’t say that you have an insatiable appetite for learning. It doesn’t say much at all in fact because most of your classmates can cite those books as well. Dare to be different. Be a reader and figure out what books move you. Then, write about them in your college essays and discuss them in your college interviews.Categories: College Essays Tags: Book References in College Essays, Books in Admissions Essays, Books in College Essays, Books in Ivy League Essays, Citing Books in College Essays