Essay Lessons From a College Applicant Superstar
What You Can Learn From
Michael Brown’s College Application Essay
I must have watched the viral video of Michael Brown learning he got into Stanford at least three times in a row.
Such a feat and well-deserved accomplishment for what seems like an all-around great kid!
Not only was Michael accepted to 20 of our top learning institutions—including Harvard, Stanford and Yale—but he got a full ride to each of them. As well as more than a quarter million dollars in scholarships. read more…
College Rejection: 3 Lessons
Don’t Despair over College Rejection
Sometimes You Discover a Better Path
It’s the time of year when high school seniors are learning where they got accepted to colleges or universities.
Yay! Good for you! Time to celebrate!
Many are also opening those dejecting rejection letters.
If they didn’t get into their dream school, that can be a bummer.
If they didn’t get into any of their schools, it can be a time of utter panic.
So I wanted to share a timely story about a young woman who recently sought my help after experiencing the wildly unpredictable and emotionally charged quest for the right school–and brutal college rejection. read more…
Strategies for the New UC Transfer Essays 2016-17
Students Must Write Four, All-New Short Transfer Essays
to Apply to University of California
If you want to transfer to any of the University of California schools, you need to write four short essays.
The UC changed the required essays this year (2016-17), and calls the new prompts “Personal Insight Questions.”
All but one of the four short essay prompts are almost the same as required for incoming freshmen: You have seven prompts to choose from to write three of your essays.
The fourth essay is a required prompt and specifically addresses your reasons for transferring. read more…
How Brittany Stinson Wrote Her Costco Essay
A Q&A With The Author of the Viral Costco Essay
Last month, Brittany Stinson learned she got into five Ivy League colleges, as well as Stanford and many other top schools.
When a newspaper reporter asked her to share her college application essay, Brittany didn’t think twice.
Within hours, her essay went viral. read more…
How to Write Short Essays: A Slideshare Tutorial
Learn the Secret to Nailing a Short Essay
for Your College Applications
Students applying to college often spend most of their energy on their core essay for The Common Application or larger universities.
They will soon learn, however, that they need to master the art of writing shorter essays.
Lots of short essays. read more…
Warning: 5 Ways to Blow Your College Application Essay
How to Avoid College Application Essay
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…
Listen to Me Talk About Writing Great College App Essays!
My friend, Lynn O’Shaughnessy, who is a national expert on helping families afford higher education, interviewed me recently about how to write standout college application essays. If you are struggling to figure out how to pay for your college or university, Lynn has the best insider information and resources, including her best-selling book and popular online courses.
I believe one thing that many students and parents don’t realize is that a strong essay not only can help you get into a competitive school, but it can also help you score merit scholarship money. This isn’t true for all schools, especially large universities, but many liberal arts colleges use the essays to determine who they want at their school and then work to help them afford it—including offering money. read more…
Great Student; Not a Great Essay
I’ve been meaning to write about the hubbub around the high school student who got accepted into all eight Ivy League schools last April. It was an amazing and well-deserved accomplishment for Kwasi Enin, a 17-year-old from Long Island, New York.
Because of his feat, the media and some college experts have held up his college application essay as one of the main reasons he was accepted. And it has been championed now as an example of a great essay.
I do not agree with this at all. I thought his essay was mediocre at best. (Read Kwasi’s essay and see for yourself.) read more…
How to Write the UC Transfer Essay: Why This Major?
The University of California
CHANGED its prompts
for transfer students
this year (2106)!
Read Strategies for the New University of California
Transfer Essays for the updated information on the new prompts.
CLICK HERE FOR UPDATED POST
ON NEW UC TRANSFER ESSAYS!
(OUTDATED!!) Why You Chose Your Major: A Love Story
If you want to transfer into any of the University of California schools (UCLA, Berkeley, UCI, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, etc.), you need to write two college application essays. One is the same prompt that all students are required to write—which basically asks for a personal statement style essay. It’s known as Prompt 2, and I wrote “Personal Quality, Talent, Achievement…” as a guide on how to write this essay in a narrative style.
Now I want to offer some ideas on how to answer the second prompt required for transfer students:
Transfer Student Prompt 1: What is your intended major? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had in the field — such as volunteer work, internships and employment, participation in student organizations and activities — and what you have gained from your involvement. read more…
2 Sample Outlines for “Why You?” Supplements
Oops. Not again! We are talking about supplements for college application essays. Not vitamin supplements. Geez!
Even though supplemental essays usually are short—usually a paragraph or two—many students are stumped on how to structure them. Or on just how to start or end them.
In general, since they are so short, you don’t have to get fancy. Jump right into your points or answers. Be direct, but include details and specific examples.
Here are a couple ideas to help you get going. These are for the most common supp: “Why you at our college?” or “What will you contribute to our college?” or “Why do you want to go to our college?” My last post, 10 Tips to Power Your Supplemental Essays, can help you find great information to include in these short essays. read more…
What’s Sup? 10 Hot Tips to Power Your Supplements
Oops. Wrong SUP. We are talking college application essay supplements here. Haha.
I just gave a workshop on how to write college supplement essays to a group of college-bound students yesterday, and wanted to share some of the advice and tips on how to make them stand out. We talked mainly about the most common supplement prompt you will find this year: Why you at our college?
On applications, this prompt is stated in a variety of ways, from asking you to tell them why you are a fit, or what you will bring or contribute to their school, or just why you want to go there.
This prompt, though tiresome, is worth spending time on, especially for your top pick schools. read more…
What Makes a College Application Essay “Great”?
Are you starting to think about writing your college application essay?
If so, you need to know what makes a great essay to know how to start brainstorming and writing your own.
You can often recognize a “great one” when you read or hear it—but it’s more difficult to explain what exactly made it that way.
Here’s my attempt to list the features that comprise a great college application essay.
Unlike other essays, these have a very specific goal that you must always factor in when you write a great one: To help your college application land in the “Yes!” pile.
Many of the elements of an effective college admissions essay further that goal.
A GRRRREATTT college application essay:
1. “Grabs” the readers at the start. I believe one of the best ways to do this is to start with an anecdote (real-life incident). Something happens.
2. Usually is written in a narrative (story-telling/memoir-like/slice-of-life) style drawing off real-life experiences.
3. Reveals a specific core or “defining” quality (creative, resourceful, fierce, resilient, driven, etc.) about the writer, rather than trying to describe many qualities. This is how to focus the essay. read more…
Help for College Transfer Students
Unlike incoming freshman, transfer students typically are older, usually have a couple years of college and are expected to navigate this process largely on their own.
But that doesn’t make it any easier—especially writing the college application transfer essays.
In high school, most students are automatically matched up with counselors or their parents hire private college admissions counselors to help them through the process. For transfer students, it’s often up to you to seek help.
According to the National Association of College Admission Counseling, about one-third of college students will change schools—from both community colleges into four year schools, or from one four-year school to a different one.
That’s a lot of students out there trying to figure it all out. So at least you aren’t alone! read more…
How to Write Your Transfer Essay for the Common App
When my son wanted to transfer from his small liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest into a larger university to pursue chemical engineering, I offered to help him with his college application transfer essay.
I thought it would be a good opportunity to share my approach to writing the main Transfer Essay required by schools that use The Common Application.
My son, though with great reluctance, agreed to be my guinea pig.
I wanted to walk through the steps and chronicled the brainstorming/planning process: read more…
“Enrich Our Diverse and Inclusive Community.” Say what?
Stumped by the University of Colorado Supp? Me, too!
I’ve had quite a few students this “season” who were flummoxed by the supplement for the University of Colorado. It kind of threw me a bit as well. But behind all that blah, blah, blah, I believe it was just another way of asking: Why Our College? or more specifically, Why YOU At Our College?
This is a common theme of many of the supplemental college application essays. And even though most students are pretty fried after writing their core essays, they shouldn’t overlook these supps and just give back a bunch of blah, blah, blah. It can be challenging, but it’s worth the time to find some tangible, specific and personal details to give your answer meaning and interest. I’ve bolded some key words in the official prompt to get you thinking of ways to respond: read more…
Some Supps Are Just Asking for BS
Many of the students I work with have finished their core essays for their college applications, and are now asking for help on the supplements. For most, writing their personal statement-type essays wasn’t that bad, searching for their stories and unique topics to tell and share. But these supps are not nearly as fun. In fact, for most of the supplements I have seen so far, it’s a major drag.
So I ask: What’s the point? These supplements that want students to tell why they are the perfect fit for their school, or what they are going to give back to a university, or why they have selected a certain college. Most of my students tell me, “I have no idea what to write.” And why should they? Answering these questions is almost always an exercise in making up a bunch of stuff. read more…
#YOLO and The 2013-14 Essay Supplements
Students must write one core college admissions essay if they are applying to a college or colleges that use The Common Application. But most schools also require additional essays, called supplements. The supp prompts for this year are starting to trickle out, and the trend so far is toward questions that are quirky and try to get students to think out of the box. read more…
How to Answer the Most Common Supplement Question: Why College X?
Most of you will write one or two “core” essays for your college applications.
These essays will focus on revealing who you are and why you are unique.
But you will also write numerous supplemental (shorter) essays.
The good news is that many of these “supps” ask similar questions. So if you are smart, you will find ways to re-use parts of your answers and streamline the process.
At the same time, you also will hone, sharpen and improve your answers.
Here are some examples of typical sup questions that are looking for similar answers:
- Why do you want to go to OUR UNIVERSITY?
- Why are you a “good match” for OUR UNIVERSITY?
- What is it that you like the best about OUR UNIVERSITY?
- How will you contribute to OUR UNIVERSITY?
Basically, there are two parts to these prompts. One: Why YOU? Two: Why COLLEGE X? Your job is show how and why they fit together. Here is a short guide on how to do this:
ONE: State your main goal for your education at your target schools. To be an engineer? To get a liberal arts education? To play waterpolo? To become a filmmaker? To earn a pre-med degree? To figure out what you want to do in the future?
SOS for The Short Answer: How to Write About an Extracurricular Activity or Work Experience
College Admissions Essays:
How to Answer the Supplemental “Short Answer” Prompt
The Common Application requires one long college admissions essay.
But it also has a short essay, a supplemental question that asks students to “briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.”
And they mean brief, no more than 1, 000 characters (about 150 words).
That’s really short, about one long paragraph.
The tendency is to simply describe an activity or experience.
Trouble is that this description often ends up as a broad overview–BORING!
But how the heck do you give details when you can only use a few words? Here’s the trick: You have to pick something within that activity or work experience and focus on that.
Let’s say you want to pick your cross country running as the activity.
My advice is to pick something within cross country that means a lot to you, such as a quality you have learned. How about endurance? Or mental discipline.
Now just zero in on how you learned that quality while running cross country, and then give an example. The example is key. It will be like a little piece of a story or a specific moment.
“I developed mental discipline from the times I had to run when I had a cold, or when the last 500 feet of the race was straight uphill…I learned to use little mental games to distract myself from the physical pain and fight back the voice that told me to quit…” This will make your answer feel real and specific (and interesting), instead of general and vague (and boring.)