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Waitlist Essays and Letters: 12 Tips to Game Them

black-and-white-woman-girl-sitting-medium

For the first time in the eight years I’ve been helping students with their college application essays, I’ve had a flurry of requests from students asking for help with waitlist essays and letters.

What torture for them!

Most have been waiting for months and months and now they get a “maybe?”

Which really means “probably not,” but keep trying anyway. (Sorry if you didn’t know that.)

That’s what I call admissions purgatory. read more…

3 New Prompts for University of Texas and ApplyTexas essays for Fall 2017

Red-star

ApplyTexas, which handles the applications for the public universities in Texas, as well as many private colleges, has announced on its web site that they have all-new essay prompts for Fall 2017.

These new ApplyTexas essays apply to students who would be starting as freshman in Fall 2017, and applying to schools such as the University of Texas at Austin, or its other locations, as well as other Texas colleges.

They replaced the three main prompts, called Topic A, Topic B and Topic C, with new questions. read more…

Lessons from a Winning Ivy League Essay on Costco

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Viral Costco Essay Writer Thanks Essay Hell!

Read Brittany Stinson’s College Application Essay
That Landed Her in Four Ivies—plus Stanford!

I can’t resist the news stories that break this time of year announcing students who get into multiple ivy league colleges.

What I find interesting is that these articles tout the student’s college application essay as the reason they got them into these insanely competitive schools.

It’s never that simple. read more…

UC Essay Prompt 2: Your Creative Side

uc essay prompt 2

University of California Essay Prompts for Fall 2017
(Ideas for Answering Personal Insight Question No. 2)

2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

If this prompt jumped out when you first read through the eight essay prompts for the University of California application, good chance you have a creative side.

And you should seriously consider writing about it.

Even if this prompt didn’t initially appeal to you, consider it anyway.

It’s not just intended for aspiring artists! read more…

UC Essay Prompt 1: Leadership Experience

UC Essay Prompt 1

University of California Essay Prompts for Fall 2017
(Ideas for Answering Personal Insight Question No. 1)

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.  

UC Essay Prompt 1 is the first of eight essay prompts for the University of California application that you can choose to answer if you are an incoming freshman.

Of the eight Personal Insight Questions, you only need to answer four.

If you consider leadership one of your defining qualities, or have had an interesting experience as a leader in some capacity, you might want to consider this essay. read more…

21 Tips for UC Personal Insight Questions and Essays

personal insight questions

 

Pick the 4 Best UC Personal Insight Questions for YOU!

If you’re applying to any of the University of California schools, you need to write four short essays.

To start, read through all eight of the Personal Insight Questions you have to choose from.

(Find specific ideas and strategies for each of the 8 new Personal Insight Questions at the bottom of this post!)

The goal is to write four short essays that as a whole will provide the UC admissions deciders with a picture of what makes you unique and special—and help set you apart from the competition. read more…

UC Essay Prompt 8: What Sets You Apart?

prompt 8

University of California Essay Prompts for Fall 2017
(Ideas for Answering Personal Insight Question No. 8)

UC Essay Prompt 8: What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?

Out of the eight new University of California essay prompts for Fall 2017, I think that most students should consider writing about Prompt 8 as one of their four required mini-essays.

More than any of the other questions, this prompt targets most directly what makes you YOU, and asks to understand something about your most fundamental qualities, characteristics or values.

It is also the most open-ended of the bunch. read more…

NEW University of California Essay Prompts for Fall 2017!

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new university of california essay prompts

First New University of California Essay Prompts
for their College Application in 10 Years!

The University of California just listed brand new college application essay prompts—for the first time in a decade!

In the past, incoming freshman wrote two core essays answering two prompts.

The two essays had to be a total of no more than 1,000 words.

The UC is now calling its new essay prompts, “Personal insight questions,” and students must choose four out of eight to answer.

And they are each supposed to be under 350 words. (So, total under 1,400 words.)

That’s a huge shift.

I love that there are more prompts to choose from, with themes ranging from leadership, creativity, service and personal individuality to more serious ones, such as sharing personal challenges or barriers to success.

I’ve written separate posts for each of the 8 new prompts, and you can find them below. Just click the blue link to get specific ideas and strategies for each Personal Insight Question.

RELATED: 21 Tips for UC Personal Insight Questions and Essays

After reading through these new prompts, I believe it will be important to choose four that show a nice variety as well as balance to showcase who you are.

In essence, these mini-essays will serve as your one personal statement, in that the goal is to highlight your most core qualities and values–and help you stand out from the crowd.

These new prompts are great news since they allow more flexibility in how you write about yourself. I also believe they should also be easier to craft than writing two longer essays.

If you are just starting the admissions process, I would just take the time to read through them and start thinking about which ones you might like to write about.

Unlike the old prompts, each of these new University of California essay prompts includes a series of additional questions, which can help you brainstorm ideas for your essays and also help you understand exactly what the UCs want to learn from you.

That is super helpful, so read them closely!

The UC also provided a new worksheet–Personal Insight Questions: Guide for Freshman Applicants–to help students brainstorm and craft their answers to these new prompts. This is an invaluable tool, and I urge everyone to use it!

uclogo

One piece of advice: If you are a student who has faced significant challenges or obstacles so far in your life or personal background, I would strongly urge you to write about them.

Numbers 4 and especially 5 would be the most obvious ones to help you write about those issues. I also believe those two prompts will produce the most poignant and meaningful mini-essays.

(I would suggest all students explore if they could include Number 4 or 5  as part of their four essays for the same reason.)

I also think UC Essay Prompt 8 is a terrific prompt, since it asks you to write about something unique about yourself. What a perfect opportunity to stand out!

The main danger of some of the other prompts is that you simply answer them and they end up being dull or boring to read. Even though these will be shorter essays, they still need to be engaging and meaningful!

As with all essays, I would advise you to always try to think of specific examples to support any main point you make.

Even though these are shorter pieces, look for your real-life moments and experiences to help you illustrate your points, especially when talking about your leadership, creativity, talents, skills, favorite subjects or volunteer activities. And ditto for sharing personal struggles.

One bit of sad news about these new prompts is that this will make it much more difficult, if not impossible, for students to recycle their essays from other applications, especially The Common Application. Students also will need to come up with four rather than two strong topic ideas.

The key is to look at these new University of California essay prompts as opportunities to showcase yourself through a variety of lens so the admissions deciders can get an accurate picture of your individuality.

 

new university of california essay prompts

Locations of UC campuses

Here are the new University of California essay prompts and admissions instructions from the UC web site for incoming freshman (I will address the new University of California transfer essay prompts in an upcoming post):

Freshman: Personal insight questions

What do you want UC to know about you? Here’s your chance to tell us in your own words.

Directions

You will have 8 questions to choose from. You must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions.
Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
Which questions you choose to answer is entirely up to you: But you should select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances.
Keep in mind

All questions are equal: All are given equal consideration in the application review process, which means there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others.
There is no right or wrong way to answer these questions: It’s about getting to know your personality, background, interests and achievements in your own unique voice.
Questions & guidance

Remember, the personal questions are just that — personal. Which means you should use our guidance for each question just as a suggestion in case you need help. The important thing is expressing who are you, what matters to you and what you want to share with UC.

1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

Things to consider: A leadership role can mean more than just a title. It can mean being a mentor to others, acting as the person in charge of a specific task, or a taking lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about your accomplishments and what you learned from the experience. What were your responsibilities?

Did you lead a team? How did your experience change your perspective on leading others? Did you help to resolve an important dispute at your school, church in your community or an organization? And your leadership role doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to school activities. For example, do you help out or take care of your family?

2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

Things to consider: What does creativity mean to you? Do you have a creative skill that is important to you? What have you been able to do with that skill? If you used creativity to solve a problem, what was your solution? What are the steps you took to solve the problem?

How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career?

3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

Things to consider: If there’s a talent or skill that you’re proud of, this is the time to share it. You don’t necessarily have to be recognized or have received awards for your talent (although if you did and you want to talk about, feel free to do so). Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you?

Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent? Does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule?

4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

Things to consider: An educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. For example, participation in an honors or academic enrichment program, or enrollment in an academy that’s geared toward an occupation or a major, or taking advanced courses that interest you — just to name a few.

If you choose to write about educational barriers you’ve faced, how did you overcome or strived to overcome them? What personal characteristics or skills did you call on to overcome this challenge? How did overcoming this barrier help shape who are you today?

5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

Things to consider: A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?

If you’re currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life? For example, ask yourself, “How has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends, or with my family?”

6. Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.

Things to consider: Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom — such as volunteer work, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or activities — and what you have gained from your involvement.

Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)?

7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

Things to consider: Think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team or a place – like your high school, hometown, or home. You can define community as you see fit, just make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community?

Why were you inspired to act? What did you learn from your effort? How did your actions benefit others, the wider community or both? Did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community?

8. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?

Things to consider: Don’t be afraid to brag a little. Even if you don’t think you’re unique, you are — remember, there’s only one of you in the world. From your point of view, what do you feel makes you belong on one of UC’s campuses? When looking at your life, what does a stranger need to understand in order to know you?

What have you not shared with us that will highlight a skill, talent, challenge, or opportunity that you think will help us know you better? We’re not necessarily looking for what makes you unique compared to others, but what makes you, YOU.

* * * * *

Here are some additional details about these new University of California essay prompts that you might find helpful or interesting (This was released from the admissions department today.):

After almost 10 years, UC is changing the personal statement section of its undergraduate admissions application, replacing the current two personal statement prompts with short-answer questions that students can choose from.  The new questions, now called personal insight questions, aim to give applicants a greater say in the kind of information they share with the University. Students can express who they are and what matters to them not only in how they respond to the questions, but also through the questions they choose to answer.
 
The new questions also provide students with better direction and focus on topics that are important to campuses. Each new question aligns to one or more of the 14 comprehensive review criteria (nine criteria for transfer students) that campuses consider in their admissions decisions. “We hope this new format will not only provide us with additional insight into applicants, but also allow students to better choose the questions that speak to them most directly,” stated a UC admissions director.

Watch How Personal College Application Essays Affect the Admissions Game

When I give writing workshops to students on college application essays and what makes them effective, I love to show this short video on YouTube.

It’s just over two minutes long, but in that brief time, I believe many students quickly get a sense of what they need to do to craft essays that will be engaging and memorable.

Take a couple minutes to watch this video, which brings you around a table of college admissions officers at Amherst College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, as they sort through applications. read more…

Sample College Application Essays to Inspire You!

sample college application essays

 

This is the time of year when my former students drop me emails letting me know where they have been accepted for the fall.

I love hearing from them, and am emboldened by how many land in their dream schools.

And I usually ask if I can share their essays with future students.

In my opinion, there’s no better way to learn how to write your own than by reading sample college application essays. read more…

How to Write a College Application Essay: In 3 Easy Steps

how to write college application essay

 

After working with thousands of students from all over the world on writing the dreaded college application essay for the last eight years, I’ve finally been able to boil down the process to three simple steps.

Yes, just three steps.

If you follow these steps, I believe you will be able to craft a college application essay that will give you an edge in the admissions game.

How?

Each step makes sure that you share information about yourself that will make your essay effective and help you stand out from the competition. read more…

Warning: 5 Ways to Blow Your College Application Essay

application essay

 

How to Avoid College Application Essay
Booby Traps

No matter where you are with writing your college application essay, you should double check that you are on the right track.

It’s way too easy to inadvertently torpedo your chances of writing an essay that gives you an edge in the admissions game. read more…

College Application Essays and the Admissions Puzzle

college application essay

College Application Essays:
One Piece
Of the Admissions Puzzle

 

This is the time of year many high school juniors start to get serious about their college admissions strategy–including their college application essays.

Some have been all over the admissions game for years. Most are just now shifting into high gear. And a few need to start tuning in.

My focus is on helping students learn to write effective college application essays. But these dreaded essays are only a part of the process. read more…

Common Application Essay Prompts and Strategies for 2016-17

common application essay

Stand Out in Your
Common Application Essay

 

So you are ready to start writing your Common Application Essay?

Congratulations! You have found the best source of specific tips and strategies on exactly how to brainstorm topics for each of the 5 prompts–and learn to craft a powerful college application essay using a narrative (story-telling) style.

Start by reading through the 5 prompts, which I shared below.

(The folks from the Common Application just officially announced their essay writing prompts for this coming college admissions season of 2016-17, and it’s anticlimactic news, but they will be the same as last year. The idea is you know the prompts well before they start accepting applications in August, so you can get a head start on your essays.)

You just need to write a personal statement essay that addresses one of these prompts. The prompts are mainly to inspire you to write a personal essay about yourself that helps you stand out from the crowd. read more…

10 Insider Tips for Your University of Texas Essays

university of texas essays

Former Admissions Counselor
at University of Texas-Austin
Shares Insider Advice

 

Are you planning on applying to any of the 14 University of Texas institutions, including the most popular in Austin, Texas?

(Or Texas A&M, and even some private Texas colleges, such as SMU, TCU, Baylor and Trinity College.)

I’m excited to share some tips from a former college admissions officer at UT-Austin with you. His name is Kevin Martin, founder of TexAdmissions, and he focused these tips on the one of the 3 required essays he believes is by far the most important, based on his experience.

University of Texas essays

Kevin Martin of TexAdmissions

The University of Texas essay is called Topic C, and the prompts asks:

“Considering your lifetime goals, discuss how your current and future academic and extra-curricular activities might help you achieve your goals.” read more…

Sample Essays: “Fast Doesn’t Always Win”

sample essays

Sample Essays Can Inspire Topic Ideas!

 

In a previous post, I shared a sample essay from my college application essay writing guide, The Writing Survival Kit. Here’s another original sample essay from the same collection.

I believe reading sample essays is not only a great way to learn how to craft a personal, narrative style essay for your college application, but a wonderful source of topic ideas.

read more…

College Application Essay Writing Podcast: How to Stand Out

Listen Up
to Write Your

College Application Essay!

 

college application essay

 

Are you the type of student who would like to learn how to write your college application essay by listening to your headphones rather than reading a book?

If so, you might want to check out the first of a two-part podcast, “How to Stand Out in Your College Essays with Janine Robinson,” where I share all my best advice and tips on how to craft a powerful college application essay during an interview with Steve Schwartz, a professional college admissions counselor.

Here’s the link to the podcast with me: How to Stand Out in Your College Essays

read more…

Sample Essays for College Applications

Sample Essays:
The Best Way to Learn to Write Your Own

 

Sample Essays

 

In my writing guide, The Writing Survival Kit, I share some excellent sample essays for college applications. In this post and future ones, I’m sharing some of them with you.

Whether you are just starting to brainstorm a topic for your own essay, or already are working on a draft, reading what other students have written can spark ideas and provide inspiration for your own pieces.

Here’s one of my favorites: read more…

Scholarship Essays: How to Win Big Bucks

 

scholarship essay

Prove You Deserve to Win in Your Scholarship Essays

 

Scholarship essays are critical if you want to go to college, recipe but can’t afford it. To win them, you usually need to write powerful and personal scholarship essays.

(Yes, QuestBridge applicants, this includes you!)

Scholarship essays are similar to the personal essays you write for college applications. They need to give schools (or sponsors) a sense of who you are, what makes you tick and what you value.

Scholarship essays, however, usually need to go one step further. Applicants need to also show and explain why they deserve to win the scholarship. read more…

ApplyTexas: Help for Essay Topic C

URGENT! ApplyTexas changed their essay prompts in 2016-17. 

Click HERE for the current essay prompts!

 

ApplyTexas

Photo Via Texas Lutheran University

(THIS POST IS OUTDATED!) 

How to Link Your Life Goals to Current and Future Activities

In the previous post, I wrote about ideas on how to answer Topics A and B in the ApplyTexas college application.

Students who want to apply to most public colleges and universities and some private colleges in Texas must use the ApplyTexas application.

Depending on the school(s) in Texas that you are applying to, there’s a good chance you will need to answer any combination of Topics A, B or C. read more…

ApplyTexas: Essay Help for Topics A and B

URGENT! ApplyTexas changed their essay prompts in 2016-17. 

Click HERE for the current essay prompts!

ApplyTexas

(THIS POST IS OUTDATED!)

All public universities, and some private and 2-year colleges, in Texas do not use the Common Application. Instead, they have their own consolidated system called ApplyTexas.

If you are applying to any of the schools that use ApplyTexas, you need to figure out what essays they require (if any), and then which specific prompts. read more…

Last Minute Help for UC College App Essay Writers!

UPDATE: as of March 23, 2016
The University of California announced NEW essay prompts for 2016-17.
Read about how to answer them HERE.

 

 

It’s Not Too Late to Write Your College App Essays
Before the Nov. 30 Deadline

 

Yes, you have waited until the last minute. But don’t despair!

There’s still time to pound out two awesome essays!

If you’re working on your two college application essays for the University of California freshman application, I’ve put together a short list of my most helpful posts.

Read through them, watch the videos, and get crankin!!

Prompt 1: Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.  read more…

What Do You Believe?

  

Students looking for ideas and inspiration on their college application essays should check out the “This I Believe” web site.

It’s an international organization set up in 2004 to help students and adults identify and express through writing personal essays the core values that guide their lives.

Thousands have been collected and published on their site and in books.

Most of these essays could easily double as college application essays, such as for the Common Application or others that ask for personal statements.

In both, you use real-life stories to share your personal philosophy. read more…

6 College Application Essay Tips for First-Gen Students

 Advice for Students Who Are Underrepresented
for Whatever Reason:
Tell Your Personal Story

In my previous post, I shared my experience working with teachers and students from the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, where I’m giving a series of workshops on how to write college application essays.

It was my first time working with a large number of students who were mainly from underrepresented backgrounds. Most of the students were Hispanic and would be the first to attend college in their families.

I wanted to share some insights, tips and advice on what I learned, in case this helps other similar students struggling with their essays.

Here are 6 Essay Writing Tips for Students
from Underprivileged or Underrepresented Backgrounds

ONE: Students who come from underprivileged backgrounds can be more reluctant to open up and reveal their tribulations, pain and vulnerability. Many believe they need to show only their strengths and victories. They are rightfully proud and don’t want to appear weak, deficient or complaining.

However, colleges are eager to hear about the obstacles students have faced, and their real-life stories of hardship, and these essays are the perfect place to share them. The best college application essays are almost always highly personal. read more…

Creating a College-Bound Culture along the Texan Border

 First-Gen Students Learn to Write
College Application Essays

 

Last month, I had the privilege to work with a group of teachers and students on their writing and college application essays from the Rio Grande Valley in the southernmost tip of Texas.

Almost all of the 50-some English teachers and 165 students were Hispanic, and most of the kids will be the first in their families to attend college.

The College Essay Writing Workshop, which is a four-part series of workshops for the most promising students from 30 high schools in the Valley, was sponsored by the Texas Graduate Center, which is an initiative of the Texas Valley Communities Foundation (a non-profit community organization), and the Region One GEAR UP Program, whose mission is to help create a college-bound culture in this part of the U.S.

Earlier in the year, their students toured top colleges and universities around the country, including Harvard, Princeton and other ivies.

During these visits, the admissions officers from the various schools told the sponsors one thing over and over: The college application essay played a huge part in who they accepted, and urged them to help their students write better ones.

So they got in touch with me.

This is me working with a student.

I’d never spent time in that part of Texas, where the Rio Grande river winds up along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. It’s been in the news lately, mainly as ground zero in the U.S. for the flood of illegal immigrants, many children, fleeing unrest in Central America, and violence in Mexico due to drug-related activity. read more…

Waving the Red Flag on College Application Essays

 

Last week, a new student came to my home for help on his college application essays.

I asked this eager senior about his target schools. He told me Stanford was his top pick, but he was applying to most of the ivies, along with a couple UCs (Cal and UCLA).

Then he handed me a printout of his essay. It was one he had written for his English teacher at our local high school.

It was about a mission trip. To a South American country. And he wrote how he loved working with the kids, and how he realized how privileged he was, and how he hoped to make a difference in the world.

I tried not to let my reaction show. read more…

Top 5 Myths About College App Essays

 You Don’t Need Tragedy to Write
a Standout College Admissions Essay!

 

This is the time of year that the frenzy surrounding college admissions starts to grow.

Early decision deadlines are just weeks away.

Students who put off writing their college application essays are running out of excuses—and time.

Those who finally sat down to figure out the Common Application are shocked at the number of additional supplemental essays they need to pound out.

Compounding the looming sense of doom are some of the myths about these essays. read more…

Is Homeschooling a Good Topic for College App Essays?

homeschooling resource

 

 How to Find the
Homeschooling Advantage
in College Application Essays

I received an email from a student named Hannah who told me she was homeschooled, and that she had been advised to write about that for her college application essay.

Hannah said she was having “trouble thinking of anything unique or super meaningful” from her homeschooling experience.

I gave this some thought, and here’s what I would advise:

Homeschooling is something unique and special in itself.

And that’s a good thing.

But as an essay topic, it’s way too broad and most likely written about by a lot by other homeschooled students, so it risks being overdone already. (More than 3 percent of school age kids are home-schools; more than 1.5 million.) read more…

Dig Deep: Show Intellectual Vitality in Your College App Essay

shovel

Go Deep to Reveal Your Intellectual Vitality!

 

When writing narrative-style college application essays, I advise students to start by sharing a real-life story that illustrates one of their defining qualities or characteristics.

Once a student shares a real-life story with a problem (either big or small), they can go on to explain how they handled it.

Then comes the most important part: What they learned in the process.

This analysis, reflection or questioning is the most important part of an effective college application essay.

Why? read more…

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