Posts Tagged ‘College Admissions’

College Summit: The Joys of Surprise and Making a Difference (and Even the Travails of a Norovirus)


2014-07-13 12.34.15-1I recently heard Anthony Robbins say that as long as you have your attention on other people, and as long as you are making a difference for others, there is no way you can possibly be depressed.

He is so right. This past week, despite contracting a norovirus that gave me serious gastrointestinal distress as well as flu-like symptoms, I was in as good a mood as I’ve been in in a long time. Why? I was making a difference for a group of low-income high school students at College Summit, a national program that supports young leaders to create a culture where kids go to college.

I’m like a proud mother when it comes to the small group of four “peer leaders” I worked with in Berkeley. Every one of them surprised me in their own way. Let me kvell just a little (names are changed for confidentiality)!


Keylon wrote his first two “free writing” exercises about topics like his relationships with girls and how he was going to find one that would make him be the man he wants to be. I feared he was bland and would not identify a relevant topic for his college admissions essay. On a break, however, he shared his real story—a story about abuse and how he turned to destructive behaviors and friends to compensate for his pain. It was also the story of how he changed direction, in part through a music program that saved his life.

Keylon’s story surprised me when it came forth, and so did how industrious and focused a student he was. When I gave him questions to answer in writing, he sat down and didn’t stop until he was done. And when it came time to edit his essay, he was able to devise seamless transitions where they had been missing, and to cut out excess words without my even pointing out the spots where he could do so. Keylon says he wants to be a singer, and perhaps he will succeed. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds his stride as an editor!

Keylon was also a great sport when we got realistic with him about his college choices. His top choices were out of his reach, and he needed to consider community college options. He adjusted course without protest or external upset. We could all learn a thing or two from this young man about acceptance and adaptation.


Jaquon had a sweetness to him and a clear, passionate life purpose under his non-plussed attitude. On the first day, he slumped down in his chair, hood over head, clearly not 100% enthusiastic about being asked to write … anything. His first free write was not about much, and I had to remind him multiple times over the 10-minute time period to keep writing. Initially he would not volunteer to answer a question and would only participate if I called on him directly (though he always had something great to say when I did).

Jacquon’s second free write was the big surprise. A saxophone player, he hit on the theme of music, and I’m telling you, it was pure poetry. He called music a “20-20 all access path…” and spoke about his purpose in life being to connect with people off all cultures through his gift. This goal was not just a pipe dream; Jacquon has already performed both in concert halls and on the street in the U.S. and abroad.

Jacquon mentioned in his essay that he gets nervous when playing only because he is afraid people won’t connect with his music. When I asked him what it would be like for him if they didn’t connect with his music, his answer popped out: “It would be like I don’t exist.”

An excerpt: “[I] put my all into every breath, note and melodic phrase so that whoever hears that will feel my passion, my struggle, my story, and my dreams.”

That’s a man with a life purpose. A purpose, when not fulfilled, that makes him feel like he doesn’t exist. If only every one of us had one so clear.


Rodrigo was my volleyball captain. He was a meticulous, methodical worker who edited himself as he wrote.

The core story that emerged from Rodrigo’s free writes was about his father, who recently started working as a janitor in Rodrigo’s school. Although Rodrigo had weathered various insults as a volleyball captain for being short and young, he had a thick skin—until the insults started being aimed toward his father. Rodrigo wrote about how his father had taught him to stay positive and not judge others, and how ultimately he used what his father had taught him to rise above his anger toward his insulting classmates.

Another thing that came out of Rodrigo’s writing was that he liked to make up words and had a penchant for metaphor. In one of his last drafts, his creativity emerged in a surprise conclusion: “I’m like a volleyball. You may kick me, push me around, hit me, or abandon me, but in the end I’m still persevering and surviving the ugliest actions against me.”


Eager to participate and answer questions, Talisha was fast out of the gate but as the writing process went on, she somehow found a way to look like she was working when she really was spinning her wheels. I gave her what I thought were clear questions and instructions and she would nod and put her pen to paper, but 10 minutes later she would not have made progress.

In my mind, we finally reached a growth point when Talisha realized that growing up as the middle of two sisters and taking care of both of them gave her management skills that have helped her in her production design projects at school. I’m not sure I’ll ever see the essay she writes on this topic though, since she only saw this connection for herself literally at the last hour.

Really the biggest surprise from Talisha was what she told me at the end of the program: that I helped her learn things about herself that she might never have known—not just on the last day, but from the time we started doing free writing exercises. And all that time I thought she was refusing to let me make a difference for her.


As I mentioned, there was a norovirus that went around and knocked out almost every one of the writing coaches in the program for some period of time. I barely made it through my part of the Saturday night banquet presentations—but it was worth it to hear Rodrigo say in front of the entire program, “Your joyous, encouraging, and gentle nature brought us to fully understand how and what to write … [and] created a bond within our group that will never be forgotten.”

I will definitely not forget the experience I had with these motivated leaders from the East Bay. And I will be back next year.

How to Avoid Costly Mistakes on Your Common Application – guest article by Nancy Griesemer


Common Application FormIntroduction by Brenda Bernstein:

As college application deadlines approach, I wanted to share some tips on the actual submission of your application. I give this same advice to job seekers by the way (“Print your resume!”). We have been so lulled by the convenience of online forms that we forget to dot our i’s and cross our t’s. On the Common Application, carelessness can lead to errors and missing information. Following the advice in Nancy Griesemer’s article below might be the most important thing you do as you prepare to submit your college applications!

It’s All About the ‘Print Preview’ or Why Your Application Looks Funny by Nancy Griesemer

In the old days, applying to college required a dependable typewriter and gallons of correction fluid. Although it was a tedious process that kept application production to a minimum, final documents told a story and reflected something about the care with which the entire application package was put together.

These days, every document submitted through an electronic system like the Common Application looks exactly the same—tediously the same. Instead of style and neatness, what differentiates applications is attention to small details and the ability to navigate limitations imposed by the software controlling the submission.

And keep in mind, what colleges see is exactly what you see when you preview the document.

So it’s up to you to check for accuracy, completeness, and how well the document “presents” to readers looking at hundreds of virtually identical forms.

This holds true for the Common Application, the Universal College Application (UCA) or most other applications you submit electronically.

And this is why all systems strongly suggest you “Print Preview” your document before pushing the submit button—regardless of how tired you are or how close you are coming to deadline. Otherwise, you risk sending a document that may contain errors or is weirdly cutoff.

In case you’re curious, this is because when you complete an application online, your response is posted in an efficient “variable-width” typeface. Systems can only enforce a character count and cannot measure the physical length of a response. And not all characters are created equal.

For example, the Common Application sets a 1000 character limit on the question asking you to “briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.” The suggested “word” limit is 150 words or fewer. But because characters are not equal in the amount of space they take up, your essay can easily exceed the word limit imposed by the document.

If you doubt this is the case, try typing 1000 “W’s” or “M’s” and paste your “document” into the answer box. You’ll find that all are happily accepted by the program. Now, press preview. What you will see is only about half of your “document.” If you substitute with 1000 “i’s”, you will see all of the document plus lots of additional white space allowing for even more characters. “W’s” and “M’s” take up way more space than “i’s.”

Writing a college application essayIn the Common Application, the problem occurs not only in the short answer section but also in the fill-in-the blank responses in the “Extracurricular Activities and Work Experience” section. Even if the application allows you to describe in detail all the awards and honors you received as a member of your high school dance team, it’s possible they will not all show up on the documents colleges actually read.

A second, more obscure formatting problem involves spacing. If you persist in hitting the “enter” key for multiple paragraphs or if you like to write in haikus, you easily run the risk of scrolling beyond the space allotted for an essay response, regardless of the word or character limit. The Common Application appears to allow no more than eight single lines in the 150 word short answer, even if those lines are single words and fall well within all limitations.

Finally, please be aware that neither the Common App nor the UCA “spellchecks” your documents.

For those of you who print previewed your documents after pushing the “submit” button and noted some truncating, don’t despair. If you stayed within the character limit—in other words, if the application allowed you to type your entire answer, the data is still there. It is available to readers if they care to take the time to go back into the system and read the complete answer.

I won’t lie to you, however. It’s not easy to retrieve the data, and it’s extremely unlikely that the average admissions reader will bother.

And sad to say, spelling errors are yours to own.

Keep in mind that you may correct both of these problems in “alternate” versions of your electronic application. You cannot resend, but you can make corrections for applications you send in the future.

So what should you do? Preview—not just for typos but also for what shows up on the document.

If truncating occurs in such a way that the response makes no sense, go back and edit. Look for extra words and tighten up your prose or paragraphing. For other responses, use standard or easy-to-understand abbreviations (capt. for captain). Do not use text-speak or nonstandard abbreviations.

Unfortunately, there is a little more bad news for users of the Common Application. The Common App’s system requirements list a limited number of “supported browsers,” which include modern versions of Internet Explorer and Safari, among others. Students using Safari, however, have reported problems previewing applications. And anyone using an older version of Internet Explorer or Chrome could be out of luck.

Hopefully, these issues will be corrected in next year’s version of the Common App. For now, you’ll just have to put up with the inconvenience and move your operation to a computer using a supported browser. You can go through some gyrations to make it work, but frankly, it’s usually easier to simply move computers.

By the way, the Universal College Application does not have similar browser limitations or issues.

In the event you are experiencing problems with your online application, do not hesitate to contact the various “support centers.” But whatever you do, don’t wait until the last minute. Responses can be significantly delayed depending on traffic to the site.

[Republished with permission of Nancy Griesemer. Original article can be found at]

Need assistance with writing a college application essay? Contact The Essay Expert at 608-467-0067 or through our Web Form.

Common Application to Enforce 650-word Limit and Eliminate Topic of Choice


In April 2011 I reported on a new 500-word limit for college personal statement, enacted by the Common Application (see Common Application Institutes Word Limit for College Application Essays). In that article I wrote, “Students are now requested to write 250-500 words on their chosen topic.” I now realize how loaded two words in that sentence were: requested and chosen.

Come August 13, 2013, two important changes will take effect in the Common Application: (1) The 250-500-word (**UPDATE: Word limit was updated to 650 words for 2013-14 as of September 2013) bookends will be enforced, not requested; and (2) although students will still be able to choose a topic, the topics will be much more constrained—the “Topic of your choice” option is going to be eliminated from the array of essay questions.

The Up Side

I am personally pleased with these changes to the rules. After all, what’s the point of a suggested word limit without any modicum of enforcement? It has bugged me, quite honestly, that even though there is a 650-word requested essay length, students have been writing essays of 750 words or more and getting admitted. Writing a 650-word essay is a challenge and requires students to rise to the occasion. Shorter essays, by their nature, must use more creativity and hold more focus—challenges that can prove the writing prowess of any college applicant.

I have also been bothered by the logic of having several essay topics to choose from, and then a separate question allowing the applicant to write on a topic of his or her choice. Why is there not just one question that asks students to write about a topic of their choice, with some suggestions of topics they might choose? Eliminating the catch-all forces students to be creative and to prove that they are able to answer a specific question posed to them. No one gets off the hook here.

Protests Abound

According to the comments on the NYT blog, I am in the minority. Concerned commenters express their opinion that eliminating the open essay question tamps down on creativity and limits the student’s “voice”; one post suggests that admissions committees will not be able to get to know applicants in a meaningful way without this essay topic. Almost everyone expressed upset at the changes.

On the other end of the spectrum, one person commented, “If a student can’t creatively respond to a prescribed prompt, THAT is the problem—not the prompt.”

I agree. Furthermore, I find that many of my students, given the opportunity to write on a topic of their choice, end up writing an essay that would have been appropriate for one of the other prompts—for instance, a person that influenced you or a topic of importance. One parent observed the same phenomenon with her son.

Here’s the comment I submitted:

… I love this change. From my perspective, the best display of a student’s writing ability is how the student responds to a restricted question. Does she take on the topic in a way no one else did? Can he be creative and focused in a word-limited essay? Does the essay answer the question? It might be worth noting that in many classes, essay and paper topics are prescribed. I don’t remember “topic of your choice” essays in English 101. It’s likely that this Common App change is meant to test applicants’ ability to perform in their college classes. And schools can still request a supplemental essay if they want to see an additional layer of creativity.

Encouraging Challenge and Creativity

And after submitting my topic, I saw this additional comment by someone who agrees with me: “By removing “topic of choice,” the Common App challenges applicants by forcing them to think creatively under constraints. Anyone can ramble on about whatever they want, but a truly successful and creative writer can surprise the reader under tight restrictions. It’s the same as writing under certain poem structures–even though you have to follow the rules, you can still express yourself. This is the same reason I think enforcing the word count is a good idea, because it forces applicants to writes as effectively as possible.”

What do you think about these changes? Do you have a student who will be affected by them (or one who is applying to college this year and thus gets in “under the wire”? Please share your thoughts below.

I refuse to answer that question! The new (intimidating) college essay


On January 25, 2012, someone on the College Confidential discussion group posted this thread:

Did you ever dump a college from your list because of the type (or number) of essays?College Essay Writing

Responses flooded in, mostly from parents of students who had indeed given up on an application because they were intimidated by the essay questions, and many from the students themselves.  One woman’s daughter dropped three applications and added one that had easier essay requirements. One aunt reported that her nephews applied to one school only – Iowa State – because the school did not require essays. And another self-proclaimed lazy procrastinator chose her colleges based on the ease of their essay requirements.

Colleges dropped by students ran the gamut and were headed up by Wake Forest and U Chicago:  Barnard, Brown (2x), BU, Bryn Mawr, Caltech, Carnegie Mellon, University of Chicago (8x), Claremont McKenna (3x), Columbia University (3x), CMC (2x), Cornell, University of Delaware, Duke, Elon, Georgetown, Grinnell (2x), Marquette Honors Program, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, MIT (2x), UNC (3x), Northwestern, Notre Dame (2x), NYU (2x), U Penn (3x), Princeton, Puget Sound, Rice (3x), Rutgers, Tufts (2x), Stanford (2x), Syracuse, UVA, Wake Forest (8x), and Yale (2x).

Why the aversion to unique essay topics?

I could rant about how students are lazy or haven’t received sufficient training in thinking for themselves or thinking creatively.  I could suggest that if our educational system did a better job on these fronts, and with teaching writing in general, students would not avoid writing essays that challenged them to invest time and thought.  I could also suggest that students don’t start their application process far enough ahead of time to ensure they have the time and attention for some uncommon essay questions.

All of those things might be true, but I am more interested in the schools’ logic behind asking unusual question such as “What does Play-Doh have to do with Plato?” (U Chicago), “What is your favorite ride at the amusement park?  How does this reflect your approach to life?” (Emory University), “Imagine you have to wear a costume for a year of your life.  What would you pick and why?” (Brandeis University), and “What would you do with a free afternoon tomorrow?” (Yale).

Why the inclination toward unique essay topics?

Colleges may be showing themselves to be current with the times, as suggested in The new college-admission essay: Short and tweet(ish).  Some applications ask for short essay answers of 25 words, such as “My favorite thing about last Tuesday” (University of Maryland), perhaps catering to the Twitter generation.  Tufts, George Mason and the University of Dayton allow prospective students to submit a video essay instead of a written one.  Students might jump at the chance to communicate in ways that are spreading like wildfire in the world of social media.

The right fit

In the College Confidential discussion, most students reported that they dropped schools not simply because of the essay requirements but because there was an additional reason the school was not a good fit.  Some were not excited about their on-campus visit.  Some realized when they were asked why they wanted to attend a particular school that they had no good reason.  Conversely, some students reported taking on writing difficult essays because a school was their clear first choice.  Some loved writing the very same essays that sent other students away (Wake Forest and Chicago essays included).  And one student actually rejected a school (Wash U in St. Louis) because they did not ask a supplemental essay question!  He thought the school was trying to increase its U.S. News rankings by encouraging applications.  Not surprisingly, two other students applied to Wash U (as well as to many other schools – Dartmouth, Harvard, and William & Mary to name a few) because of the simplicity of their essay requirements.

Perhaps colleges like Wake Forest and U Chicago are shooting themselves in the foot.  Several anecdotes appeared in the College Confidential discussion about students who got accepted into one school with a simple application (Harvard, for instance) while they were still working on essays for another school.  Schools with longer or more complex essay requirements might be losing some qualified and motivated students in addition to the ones who just don’t care enough to jump through the hoops.

Yet for most schools, it appears that they are doing a good job of weeding out applicants.  If an Honors application intimidates you, that’s a very good sign that you are not meant to be in that program.  If an essay challenge makes you realize that you’re not up for that challenge, regardless of the reason, then that school has done you and itself a favor.  What a great strategy for winnowing down the number of applications to a pool of students who will face an extra challenge or two because they want so much to go to a particular school.

As one member of College Confidential, stated, “Frankly, there are too many well-rounded, excellent students applying to the best universities to distinguish a select few without asking stranger, creative questions. It’s there that you begin to see a student’s personality and that’s what gets you in.”


Are essay questions scaring you away from a school?  Maybe it’s time to get some help.  If you want to brainstorm with a professional about what you could write in response to some of these wacky questions, contact The Essay Expert.  We’ll be happy to help.

3 Ways to Write a Great Personal Statement for College!


(This article has been updated to reflect the new 650-word limit for the Common Application)

The New York Times has been rife this season with articles about the college application essay.  The Common Application’s newly reinstated 650-word guideline is the topic of much conversation, as are general themes and strategies for the personal statement.

It is now early November.  Some early application deadlines have come and gone, and November 15 deadlines are around the corner.  Is your high school senior still stuck or struggling with his or her personal statement?

Many people, not just college applicants, have a hard time writing about themselves.  Yet that’s exactly what you need to do when writing a personal statement.  No matter how much you might not like it, your personal statement is about you.  There’s really no way around it.

Today I will provide some assistance and resources to help any college applicant to get those 650 words written.

1.  Relax!  Have fun!

“It’s all about loosening up,”  says a California college professor in Crafting an Application Essay That ‘Pops’, a New York Times article which reported on the recommendations of 5,000 admissions officers and counselors who gathered at the latest NACAC conference.  I couldn’t agree more.

To help students have fun with their personal statements, Stanford University has come up with an interesting twist:  They ask applicants to write a letter to their future freshman roommates.

Here are some samples, quoted in the article, of how students approached the essay:college essay ice cream fork

“If you want to borrow my music, just ask. If you want to borrow my underwear, just take them.”

“I eat ice cream with a fork, and I drink orange juice right after I brush my teeth just for the sour taste.”

“If you have anything other than a Dodgers poster on the wall, I will tear it down.”

Note that all these lines are written in the first person – unfortunately to some, a required element of writing about yourself.  And note that all the lines are unique.  It’s unlikely that two applicants would have written the same thing.

Here’s the key to writing a great essay:  Write something no one else could have written.

If that sounds like a daunting task, loosen up!  Take a cue from Stanford’s essay question, no matter what topic you choose to write about.  All you have to do is tell stories about yourself.

2. How NOT to Start your College Application Essay

One common pitfall students fall into is trying to write an essay about their reasons for applying to school, instead of simply telling a story.  One of my recent clients started her essay to graduate school with, “I am applying to the XX school for several reasons.”  I coached her to simply start telling her story.  This approach made the project a lot easier, and made her essay a lot more interesting!

Here’s the start of an essay that meets this requirement:

When I went to Fall Out Boy’s Chicago radio show, there was the comment from the drummer, “The girl from New York is here.”  When I fought my way to the front of the crowd in Florida, there was the bassist’s point of his finger at me as he mouthed one of my favorite lyrics: “I still hate you.”

This opening line works because it tells a story no one else could tell.  It brings us into a world unique to the applicant.  And it sets us up to think something interesting is going to happen in this essay.  The reader is compelled to read the next line.

Contrast this to an alternate version of the essay that might have read, “Music is one of my passions, and because of that I attend a lot of rock concerts.  My favorite band is Fall Out Boy.”

You might laugh, but version two is the way many college essays read.  Or, to avoid boring the committee, applicants swing the other way:  “Raindrops heated by the flashing lights above, falling abundantly and without end, singeing my hair, my skin, my eyes…”

Here’s a tip:  If you are not a brilliant creative writer, just stick to the facts.  They will set you free.

3. Doing it in 650 Words

The Common Application now sets a 650-word limit for a college application essay.  The more you stick to a story – a story that is directly linked to the point you want to make in your essay – the easier it will be to stay within that limit — and to knock the socks off the admissions committee!

The New York Times’ “The Choice” blog provides spot-on advice for how to stay succinct in Advice on Whittling Your Admissions Essay.  Read this article immediately if you are over the limit and unsure of how to cut your writing down to size!

You might also gain some breathing room from Matt Flegenheimer’s October 28, 2011 article, College Application Essay as Haiku?  For Some, 500 Words Aren’t Enough.


Need Help with your Personal Statement for College?

If you’re still stuck, panicked, or unsure, consider getting some help.  The Essay Expert’s Ivy-educated consultants are skilled in working with students to craft essays that say more than you might even imagine can be said in 650 words.  Just try us!

Have you done things because you *should* even though you didn’t *want* to? How did it go?


This week I watched the film “Temple Grandin,” a true story about a brilliant – and socially outcast – autistic girl.  Temple’s mother forced her to go to college, despite Temple’s desire to work on a ranch instead.  In this case, the mother’s insistence turned out to be best thing that could have happened to Temple.  She went on to get a Masters Degree and to become a professor of Autism and Animal Science at Colorado University.

This movie was timely because I had just been interviewed for an article, published in Forbes, entitled Students Unhappy With College Options Weigh Transfer vs. Gap Year.  A “gap year” is a year off between high school and college, and students who choose to take this year off fall into two categories.  Some are up to great things in the world – training for the Olympics, trekking in Nepal, studying marine life on the barrier reef.  These students have a passion that they want to pursue and college takes second seat to these dreams.

The other category would have preferred to go straight to college, but they do not get admitted to a school they want to attend.  Should they go to their “safety” school or spend a year doing something else, hoping they will have better luck next year?


What if my child wants to take a year off?

If you’re the parent of a student considering a gap year, and if you strongly believe she should go to a safety school rather than take a year off, see if you can get her to come to that decision herself.  As I stated in the Forbes article, I believe that forcing a teenager to go to a school she thinks she’ll hate can be a recipe for disaster.  I believe Temple Grandin was the exception rather than the rule.


Life’s Unpredictability

Many students who do attend schools that were not on the top of their list end up having a great time (as attested to by Carolyn Mulligan, College Admissions Consultant). I believe most of these students came to the decision themselves to attend a less than perfect school. I have experienced this type of phenomenon myself; when I first started my business, I thought I would hate marketing.  Guess what?  It’s my favorite part of my job!

On the flip side, sometimes you think you will love something only to find out it was not the right fit after all.  This happened to me as well: I thought I’d like being a lawyer, and discovered it was not the perfect fit I had imagined.

Do your research!

For high school seniors, before jumping in to what looks like an undesirable situation, and before saying a definite no, visit the school.  Speak to students.  Sit in on classes. Maybe even stay overnight and eat breakfast in the cafeteria or dining hall.  If at all possible, find out what it’s like to be there.  Then make your decision.

If you do decide to take a year off, make it a valuable year.  Learn something you wouldn’t have learned in college.  Gain life experience.  Become more of the person you want to be.  If you can do any of those things, in my opinion, you will not only be a better college candidate the following year, but you will be a more fulfilled human being.

Have you ever accepted an offer for a job or school admission that you thought you would love and ended up hating?  Or discovered you didn’t fit as well as you thought you would in a job or a school?  What’s your advice for students facing these decisions?

Princeton and Harvard Fail to Lead the Way on Elimination of Early Admissions


A New York Times article reported on February 24, 2011 that Princeton and Harvard have chosen to reinstate their early admissions programs.  Apparently they weren’t comfortable sticking out like sore thumbs in the Ivy League.Princeton and Harvard reinstate early admissions

As reported in The Daily Princetonian, Princeton’s President Shirley Tilghman had this to say about the decision:

“We have carefully reviewed our single admission program every year, and we have been very pleased with how it has worked…  But in eliminating our early program four years ago, we hoped other colleges and universities would do the same, and they haven’t.”

This decision highlights how much the Ivy Leagues are bedfellows.  Harvard made its decision first, and although Tilghman claims that Princeton “might” have reinstated early admissions even if Harvard had not, Princeton’s decision was clearly heavily influenced by Harvard’s.

Diversity Schmersity

It is well-known that applying early decision markedly boosts applicants’ chances for admission, and that early applicant pools tend to be higher income and less diverse than the regular admission pool.  The initial reason for eliminating early admissions back in 2006 was the assessment that early admissions had an overall homogenizing effect on collegiate populations. Princeton’s Tilghman remains hopeful:

“I think there’s a lot of confidence among the staff at the admission office — and I have to take that confidence pretty seriously — that we are going to be able to sustain the gains that we’ve seen,” Tilghman said. “I’m cautiously … optimistic that we will be able to sustain the gains.”

Why oh Why?

I wonder what the impetus was for Princeton and Harvard’s choice.  The most obvious possibility is that they were losing top candidates to other schools with early admissions programs.  Isn’t it interesting how the NYT, Princetonian, and AP articles don’t mention that?

Skeptics will likely surmise that there must be some financial gain for Princeton and Harvard in reversing their 2006 decision.  Although this might be the case, there is some mitigating news. The Associated Press reports that Harvard is increasing financial aid in the face of its 4% tuition increase, and that it has pledged improvements in minority recruiting.  I’m sure there will be many people keeping a close eye on the results of the return to early admissions, and I hope Tilghman’s prediction is on the money.

College Essay Topic #3: 7 Essay Tips for Writing a College Application Essay About a Famous Person


Writing a college admissions essay about a famous person is similar to writing about your grandmother, it’s tricky to write about a famous person.  You risk writing a short academic paper rather than a true personal statement.

Here are 7 tips for keeping your essay about a famous person interesting (note: the first two tips are very similar to the tips for writing about your grandmother!):

1.       Focus on you, not on the famous person.  Write your thoughts and opinions about the person.College Essay about Famous Person

2.       If you find you have written more than one sentence in a row that is all about the famous person instead of about you, add the word “I” or “me” to at least one of the sentences!

3.       Do NOT copy information from the internet about the person and put it in your essay.  It will be crystal clear to the admissions committee that you did not write that part of the essay, and it is extremely easy to copy and paste text and put it into Google.  If anything pops up in the results containing that text, you will NOT get into college.

4.       Think about the first time you heard about the famous person, saw the person on television, read a book by the person, or saw the person’s artwork.  What were your thoughts in that moment?  How did the person, book or artwork affect you?

5.       What happened next?  Did you go research more about the person?  Did you start reading every book by the person?  Did your friends and family start giving you books about the person or his or her work?

Tell the story as it progressed of what you learned about the person, and about what kept you interested.

6.       Talk about how your understanding of the person’s influence or work changed over time.  As you matured, did you start to gain a deeper understanding or see things from a different perspective?  Share the details of this process.

7.       Tell us how this person or work has had an impact on your life.  How are you different because of your contact with and knowledge of this person?

As you can see, writing about a famous person can actually be very personal.  The personal side is what will keep the attention of the admissions committee members.  Remember, they are just as capable as you are of using Google and Wikipedia to find out about a famous person’s life.  What they want to read about is your unique experience.

For examples of successful college essays, The Essay Expert recommends Accepted!  50 Successful College Admissions Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe.

Still not sure how to write a great college application essay about your sport?  Contact The Essay Expert for a FREE 15 minute consultation.

College Essay Topic #2: 7 Essay Tips for Writing a College Application Essay About Your Sports/Athletic Involvement


Almost as popular as the “My Grandmother” college application essay is the essay about sports.  If you are planning to write a sports essay, you risk boring the admissions committee as much as would a mediocre ballgame.

Here are some tips to make sure your college application essay about your sports involvement makes a good impression:

1.       Whatever you do, do NOT write an entire play-by-play essay about the “Big Game” – even if you scored the winning touchdown or home run. This topic is way overdone.  You can certainly write a paragraph about the game, but then move on to another aspect of your sports involvement.

college essay about sports2.       Consider writing about the experience of being on a team.  What does it take on a day to day basis?  What have you learned?  How have you grown?  How have you balanced your commitment to sports with your academics?

3.       Don’t be afraid to write about your shortcomings.  If you start in a place where you didn’t know something, or where you weren’t on your best behavior, or even where you were injured, then you have somewhere to go/grow to.

4.       Consider writing about your particular role in the team dynamics.  Do you have a leadership role?  If so, what’s your leadership style and how does that style show up in other parts of your life?

5.       Consider writing about what it takes to play your particular position.  Offense?  Defense?  Pitcher?  Outfield?  Team play or individual sport?

What metaphors can you draw from the position you play or from your strengths in the game?

Do you find yourself playing a similar role in life to the one you play on the court or the field — or maybe even the opposite role?

For instance, if you play offense, do you end up being aggressive about winning or going after things in other aspects of life?  Or has playing offense taught you strategies to defend yourself or your positions in life?

6.       Stay humble even if you are a big winner!  You can share impressive facts and showcase your talent as long as you really share something about what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown.

7.       Talk about people and other topics that interest you, not just about the game.  If you’re all about the game, you don’t show your ability to interact with future classmates and you miss out on opportunities to sell yourself to the committee.  Colleges are looking for leaders – and leadership takes more than winning a game.

For examples of successful college essays, The Essay Expert recommends Accepted!  50 Successful College Admissions Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe.

Still not sure how to write a great college application essay about your sport?  Contact The Essay Expert for a FREE 15 minute consultation.

College Essay Topic #1: 7 Essay Tips for Writing a College Application Essay About Your Grandmother


One of the most popular topics for the college application essay is “My grandmother.”  If you are planning to write an essay about your grandmother, you have a challenge ahead of you.

How will you make your essay stand out amongst all the other grandmother essays?

How will you make the admissions committee remember your essay and not just yawn over it?

Here are some essential tips to write a college application essay about grandma:

1.       Focus on you, not on your grandmother.   When you wrote your first grade school essay about grandma, it was all about grandma.  Now it’s gotta be all about you. Write about your experience, your thoughts, and your opinions as they relate to your grandmother.

2.       If you find you have written more than one sentence in a row that is all about your grandmother instead of about you, add the word “I” or “me” to at least one of the sentences!

3.       Use very specific examples of conversations you had with your grandmother.  That way you can’t possibly write the same essay someone else has written.

4.       Know your starting point and ending point, and show growth.

Perhaps your grandma used to give you help and advice, and now that you are older you have become her advisor.  Perhaps you used to judge certain things as negative that you now see as positive.  Or maybe you didn’t understand something as a young child that you now understand.

Any growth or changes of perspective are great to write about.

5.       Keep it real.  Although a certain amount of description is necessary, if you get overly flowery with your language you’ll lose the reader’s attention.

6.       Consider writing about an object or activity that is related to your grandmother, but isn’t directly your grandmother.

For instance, let’s say your grandma was a gardener.  You could write about an aspect of gardening as your theme, so your grandmother would be part of the essay but not the sole focus.  Grandma may have taught you about gardening and you may have used some of those lessons in other parts of your life.  Your essay would then be about gardening as a metaphor.

7.       Want to write about grandpa instead?  He’s less popular but the same principles apply.

For examples of successful college essays, The Essay Expert recommends Accepted!  50 Successful College Admissions Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe.

Still not sure how to write a great college application essay about your grandma (or grandpa)?  Contact The Essay Expert for a FREE 15 minute consultation.