Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Summer Is Almost Here

With any luck, summer is a balancing act: Serious fun and relaxation mixed with, well, some college application essays. For the latest news on my blog, click here and for more about my services, visit my website.

College App News You Can Use: Essays, Applications, SATs & No Tests

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This spring brings an abundance of real news into the relatively staid world of college applications and admissions for the upcoming season - for those applying to be part of the class of 2021. Students and parents will need to navigate quite a few new organizations, essays, and even tests.

The New SAT. The new version of the SAT is somewhat old news, but it's here to stay. In the competition between the SAT and the ACT, the ACT is now the more popular choice for college applicants. Some say that in order to better compete with the ACT, the SAT modified its test to bring it more into line with the ACT. Many rising seniors have already taken the new test, and many more are signed up. One voice: A prominent tutor, James-Anthony Green, recommended that students not take the new SAT this year, and wait instead until there have been more responses to it. 

My test prep partner, Arborbridge, has another perspective on it for those who've already taken in and might want to continue with it, or those who are more interested in it because of the new content. Take a look at their perspective here.

No tests required. While many colleges and universities require SAT subject tests, about 850 institutions do not require either the standard SAT or ACT, as they have found that high school grades and records are as good a predictor of success in college as these tests. You can see a list of these institutions here, provided by FairTest. They include Bennington College, Brandeis University and Clark University. 

Common App vs Coalition vs Universal. 

The Common Application Organization, founded 40 years ago, is the granddaddy of application platforms, with more than 600 college and university members to date. This past year, they had one million applicants who submitted 3.5 million applications from around the world. 

The Common App application consists of basic information (name, school, family), a list of activities, a list of honors, and the infamous "essay" - known at the "Common App essay," which is often the centerpiece of a student's essays, as many colleges also require personal statements and/or additional "supplementary essays." The Common App essay prompts (choose one of five) can change from year to year, but they remain the same this coming year as they were last year. (For more on that, check out my recent post.)  This coming year's application goes on-line Aug. 1, but you can sign up now. 

This coming season brings a new player into the mix - the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, which presumably intends to compete with the Common App for customers, though it will no doubt take some time for applicants to become acquainted with this new program. 

The Coalition currently has about 90 member colleges and universities, half of which will be using this new platform this coming year, while the other half have postponed until next year. I first heard about this idea more than a year ago, interviewing the admissions director of an Ivy. He spoke about his interest in having a program that engages students early - starting in 9th grade - and gives them a "locker" into which they can put artwork, videos, music, articles they've written, anything that they want to save for possible submission with their college applications. The organization's mission, it seems, is to broaden access to college fo

The Coalition has its own centerpiece essay - which does not have a firm upper limit but they recommend no more than 550 words, compared to the Common App's 650 words, and these are this year's prompts. Please note the "topic of your choice" for the last:

-- Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
-- Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
-- Has there been a time when you've had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
-- What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What's the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
-- Submit an essay on a topic of your choice. 

For more on this essay, please check the Coalition's webpage

Some institutions will only allow students to apply through the Coalition while others will continue to accept applications through the Common App and, in some cases, the Universal Application, which currently has 44 members.

Bottom line: As with the new SAT, students might want to give the Coalition a year to get off the ground, since half its members are also waiting a year, before signing up. It's definitely worth a visit to go to the site, poke around, see whether you want to open an account, and go through your creative work and maybe even put a few items in your locker!

California News. After many years with the same two essay prompts, University of California - with its nine separate institutions - has introduced a whole new slew of essays. Choose four of eight short takes - up to 350 words. Take a look here for a preview.

It's going to be a busy year.

Please visit my website for information about my service: Don't Sweat the Essay
Shoot me an email: Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com
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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Money, Money, Money & College App Essays

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I love this yearly tradition. For the last few years, The New York Times has asked students to submit college application essays they've written about money, work, and social class. The essays are fascinating, and they give upcoming students the idea that there is a wider and even riskier variety of subjects to explore in their personal statements than they might have thought. 

Here are two paragraphs from the Times piece, "In College Essays, Echoes of Parents' Attitudes," by Ron Lieber. I hope you'll want to read more and read the four winning essays, which you can access through the article:

"Each year, I put out an open call for college applicants to send in essays about money, work, social class and related issues that they’ve submitted to undergraduate admissions offices. This year, we received 231 of them and enlisted Ralph Johnson, senior director for college success for the Democracy Prep public schools network and a former admissions officer at Brown University, to help pick the four that we are publishing. We pay the four writers as we would freelancers.

"In narrowing them down from among the best dozen or so that we received, Mr. Johnson said he put himself back in the mind-set of the gatekeeper role he once held at Brown, when there were so many essays to read that he felt guilty being in a house of worship without a pile of paper in front of him." READ MORE

For more about my services, please visit my website Don't Sweat the Essay, shoot me an email or call me.  Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com  1-855-99-ESSAY. 

New Essay Prompts for University of California Applicants

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Behold the "Personal Insight Questions" - brought to you by the University of California. Big news at UC this year: An entirely new approach to the essay prompts. Instead of two longish essays totaling 1000 words, students now must write four essays of up to 350 words each, from a choice of eight new prompts. This is a great opportunity for choosing questions that speak to you, for thinking deeply about what you want the University to know about you, and -- yes -- for a bit of showing off what you've done and what matters to you. 
UCLA and UC Berkeley are the toughest of these nine UC universities to get into, with UCLA's applications topping 85,000 and Berkeley's topping 70,000 last year. (These may not be unique applicants, as some students will apply to both). 
Since the application deadline is quite a few months from now (November 1), this is a great time to look over the questions, chose a few that appeal to you, and start taking notes on how you might answer - what examples and stories you'd tell, what positions, accomplishments and/or talents you want to explore, and how much time you might need to write these essays. I think the questions are terrific - varied, probing, and relevant - and they give students plenty of opportunities to describe themselves and their interests. 
I think of this as Step 1 - getting acquainted with the prompts and starting to think about what you'll want to say. Here's a list of the prompts and the excellent supporting questions, all provided by the University itself right here and below: 
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.
For more information about my services, visit my website at Don't Sweat the Essay. Shoot me an email or call: Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com  1-855-99-ESSAY.

Friday, April 8, 2016

College & Common Application Essays: A Coach Looks Forward & Back

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As I mentioned earlier here, the Common Application essay prompts will be the same this coming year (2016-17) as they were this past year. I think it's great news, as the prompts have the power to elicit terrific essays. I spent some time exploring each of the prompts in my latest Huffington Post blog, College and Common Application Essays: A Coach Looks Forward and Back. Here's the opening, or you can click here to read the whole thing. 


"One frenzied application season is just over and another - take a deep breath - is about to begin.
"By March 31st, college applicants around the world had heard from the colleges of their dreams, their so-so’s and their safeties, including First Daughter, Malia Obama, who is said to be choosing from between Barnard (yay, my alma mater!) and NYU (another great NYC school). Most students have until May 1st to make up their minds, and then there’s the Slow Dance of the Waiting List that goes on through the summer.
"For high school juniors, the process is just beginning.
"In this sea of uncertainty, there’s one thing we know for sure now: the Common Application essay prompts from last year were so successful, they will be used this coming year. I couldn’t be happier, as I’ve seen these prompts elicit fascinating personal reflections that enable admissions officers to learn a great deal about the applicants and give students a chance to “explain” themselves the way they might in a leisurely interview.
"I was also delighted to see how popular the individual prompts are compared to one another. For the most part, the Common Application’s numbers jive with my experience. And please keep in mind: you choose only one of these prompts, with a word limit of 650." READ MORE
To read more about my services, visit my website: Don't Sweat the Essay. Shoot me an email. Give me a call. Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com. 1-855-99-ESSAY.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

College App Essays & Acceptances, Wait Lists & Malia Obama

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The drama is over: this past week marked the end of the Season of Applying, Worrying and Waiting for those eager to become class of 2020. For some, it's the Season of Waiting Lists. If you are on one and need advice for how to move up the list, shoot me an email: Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com. 

Major media report that First Daughter Malia Obama is busy choosing between NYU and Barnard. Who knows whether that's right, but she has two terrific choices. The rest of the applicants' choices will not, likely, end up on the nightly news, but they are just as important. 

I'm lucky enough to have a ringside seat to this complicated, nerve-wracking process, and to work with students around the world (thank you Skype, Facetime, and Google Docs for making it possible) on their essays and applications. It's an immense privilege to meet so many bright, ambitious students, with such clear ideas of what they want to do in this world - and what they've already done. It's just as interesting to work with those who don't know what direction they want to go in - but who are full of curiosity and wonder about the world. 

As a university creative writing professor for many decades, I've had the experience of getting to know wonderful students over the years. Working with college applicants is similar to this - and also different. The work we do is concentrated, practical, and highly goal-oriented. One of my goals is to help give students as many choices as possible. Yes, there are "dream schools," but there are plenty more colleges and universities than many of us know about, or can imagine, and it's always great to help students find these too.

Congratulations to all. This year, my clients have gotten acceptances to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Wellesley, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Harvey Mudd, NYU, Northwestern, Tufts, BU, USC, UCBerkeley, UCSB, University of Illinois, CUNY, St. John's (both Queens & Santa Fe), London School of Economics, University of Edinburgh, and many other fine schools. 

For more about what I do, please visit: Don't Sweat The Essay. Shoot me an email or call. Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com 1-855-99-ESSAY.





Thursday, March 17, 2016

Insider Advice: What College Admissions Officers Tell Their Own Kids

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Insider info is ours! The New York Times has interviewed about ten college admissions officers - at MIT, Vanderbilt, UCLA, Kenyon and elsewhere - to find out what advice they give their own children about applying the college. The article - about college applications essays and much else - is well worth reading. Here's the opening or click here for the whole article.


"While most parents find the college process stressful and bewildering, we interviewed some who have a unique perspective: admissions officers who are also the parents of teenagers and college students themselves. They know that while parents can’t control where their child is admitted, they can influence whether their teenager views the college process as stressful and frustrating or as an exciting time filled with opportunity.
"These admissions officers tell their own children that high school is far more than just a pathway to college — it’s a time for maturation, self-discovery, learning and fun. They encourage their teens to embrace activities and courses that reflect who they genuinely are, not who they think colleges want them to be.
"We interviewed admissions officers at Allegheny College, Georgia Tech, Kenyon College, M.I.T., Penn State, Vanderbilt, U.C.L.A., U.N.C.-Chapel Hill and the University of Richmond. Every one of them emphasized the importance of their child finding a college that fits, not the other way around. READ MORE
For more about my college application essay and selection services, visit my website: Don't Sweat the Essay. Send me an email or call me: Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com  1-855-99-ESSAY.