Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Learn to Play the College App Essay Game: 10 Simple Tips

Stay sane (maybe!) while writing college application essays & personal statements - for Huffington Post.

David Letterman's top ten lists will never lose their appeal. It's as though all the wisdom on any subject can be contained in these simple, breezy lines -- and who knows, maybe they can be. These are general guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Not every applicant will be able to do these in this order and some may be more relevant than others.

1. No magic bullet. There's no getting around it. The essays are a slog, and if you're applying to schools with many supplements or several schools not on the Common Application, it's a lot of work. But -- the good news! -- doing the work is a way to focus your experience, your perceptions, your goals, and your sense of yourself as a soon-to-be college student, especially during interviews. Finding your voice and your story will help you make that transition.

2. Ask for help -- from people and online. Writers (and doctors and engineers and parents) ask for help all the time. Just because writing is a solitary activity doesn't mean you shouldn't seek advice and reactions from teachers, guidance counselors, family friends, parents, or the abundant information online. Ask for help brainstorming. Read online posts about how to tackle various questions. Check out college app essays that are posted, but don't be discouraged by them. You're looking at final drafts, not early drafts. Ask for help from teachers, guidance counselors, family friends who are writers or educators -- and/or your parents. And be prepared to rewrite. And rewrite.
3. There are no right answers. Students often say: What does the school want me to write? The school wants to know what you think and what your experience is. The essay is a kind of interview. Reveal yourself. Make sure you essay tells us what it is that you want the colleges to know about you: Your passions, your talents, your ambitions, the qualities that make you who you are.  READ 7 MORE TIPS

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Famous U of Chicago Application Essay Prompts Out (Supps to Common App)

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A young friend of mine, and a recent graduate of the University of Chicago, calls it "the school for people who like school." It's a serious place full of serious people, and it's famous (or infamous?) for the eccentricity of the supplementary application essays. The questions change every year, and they often use prompts submitted by students. It's part of the fun - if it's your idea of fun - of applying there and being part of this hyper engaged community.

With that in mind, I present this coming year's essays. I think they're the most interesting ones I've seen from Chicago, and, in honor of the university's 125th anniversary, for #7, they're offering a really special option: to write an essay on any one of the past year's prompts, which they provide a link to.

U. Chicago is a Common App school, so you will need to submit a total of either 3 or 4 essays: 1. The Common App essay 2. Question 1, which is Required  3. Question 2 (optional, but if you're serious about the place, Just do it) and 4. The Famous other essay, with a choice of 7 prompts this year. 

There are no precise word limits for the essays specific to Chicago (for the Common App, it's 650 words, firm), but the University's FAQ suggests 500 words as just about right. For other useful application info from Chicago, please click here for their fabulous FAQ.

If these essay topics thrill you and you can't wait to get going on them, UChicago might be a great place for you. If they make you want to run in dread, terror, or boredom, take that as a sign that UChicago might not be the right university for you - and keep looking. You'll find others, for sure. 

Question 1 (Required):

How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago.

Question 2 (Optional):

Share with us a few of your favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, pieces of music, musicians, performers, paintings, artists, blogs, magazines, or newspapers. Feel free to touch on one, some, or all of the categories listed, or add a category of your own.

Extended Essay Questions:

(Required; Choose one)

Essay Option 1.

Orange is the new black, fifty’s the new thirty, comedy is the new rock ‘n’ roll, ____ is the new ____. What’s in, what’s out, and why is it being replaced?
—Inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015

Essay Option 2.

“I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.” –Maxine Hong Kingston. What paradoxes do you live with?
—Inspired by Danna Shen, Class of 2019

Essay Option 3.

Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story.
—Inspired by Drew Donaldson, Class of 2016

Essay Option 4.

“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” –Paul Gauguin. What is your “art”? Is it plagiarism or revolution?
—Inspired by Kaitlyn Shen, Class of 2018.

Essay Option 5.

Rerhceseras say it’s siltl plisbsoe to raed txet wtih olny the frist and lsat ltteres in palce. This is beaucse the hamun mnid can fnid oderr in dorsdier. Give us your best example of finding order in disorder. (For your reader’s sake, please use full sentences with conventional spelling).
—Also inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015. Payton is extra-inspirational this year!

Essay Option 6.

In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose a question of your own. If your prompt is original and thoughtful, then you should have little trouble writing a great essay. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun.

Essay Option 7.

In the spirit of historically adventurous inquiry, to celebrate the University of Chicago’s 125th anniversary, please feel free to select from any of our past essay questions.


Monday, June 15, 2015

What Are You Doing This Summer (College App Essays? Common App Essay?)

Call for free Common App - College App essay consult: If you've ended up here, I bet you've got ambitions to do some of your application essays this summer. I'm hoping you might also have some fun and games in the works (see below: multiple choice). If you might need some help, call for a consult, shoot me an email and visit my website: Don't Sweat the Essay. I'm already working with students from New York to New Delhi, in person and on Skype. I'll be on Martha's Vineyard for 3 weeks in July. 1-855-99-ESSAY. Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com  Thanks for taking a look.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

New Testimonial

I was very moved to just receive this new testimonial from a high school student I worked with this past season:

"I started my college applications (particularly the essays) very late. There was no real reason other than procrastination. My hopes for reaching the Ivy League soon became hopes for simply getting into college. However, with the little faith I had left, I browsed Google for useful college application resources/mentors, and I found Liz's website; I remember reading the amazing testimonials for her services, and yelling to my mom, "Mom, we NEED to call this lady!" I was initially concerned she wouldn't even have the time and availability to help me so late into the year, so upon hearing she would welcome me as her student, I was shocked. Over the next two months, she guided me throughout not just the essay-writing process, but my entire college application process, providing me invaluable information with her wide range of college-related experiences. From helping me transcribe my creative voice onto paper to helping me write my resumé, Liz taught me things that will last into college and beyond. Thank you so much, Liz. Writing this testimonial is an honor, and I hope mine will inspire others as your previous testimonials have inspired me."
-C.Z, Emory University & Cornell University 

Thank you, C.Z., it was a pleasure working with you. 

Please shoot me an email or call me for information about college application essay support: Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com  1-855-99-ESSAY. 

And visit my website for more information: Don't Sweat the Essay.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Beyond the College App Essay: "Where else are you applying to college?"

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The Common Application organization revealed a new application question last week  - not an essay prompt, but an actual question - that's been kicking up dust in higher education circles.
This is from my latest Huffington Post blog post, "Not Just the College App Essay: 'Where Else Are You Applying?'" about the new question the Common Application organization will be asking on behalf of some member colleges and universities this coming season - 2015-16 - and what it might mean for you. 
"Many of us feel the college app process isn't complicated or stressful enough (NOT!), so the good people at the Common Application, which creates and oversees the application you love so much (NOT!), recently announced a new question for the upcoming season that has sparked a lot of debate.
"According to an article, "Inappropriate Question?" in Inside Higher Ed, "The Common Application is planning to let colleges add a question for applicants that some admissions leaders believe is unethical and will encourage more gaming of the admissions process. The question: Where else are you applying?" It's not clear yet whether all colleges will ask this on their Common App supplements and/or whether the question will be optional, and how clearly students will understand that it's optional, if it is. In other words, will the question be posed in such a way that students will feel pressure to answer it and to understand what it might reveal? As of this writing, we don't know the answers to these questions." READ MORE
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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

New Common App College Essay Prompts 2.0 are Here!

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Please take a look at my latest Huffington Post blog on the big college news of the day: the announcement of the new Common App essay prompts for 2015-16.

Here's the start of my article. To finish it, click on the link below. 
"This is big news in the college application world. It's not quite landing on the moon or Beyoncé having a baby, but the twittosphere is aflame this morning. The Common Application organization has just released the essay prompts for the upcoming year. Though applications aren't due until late in the fall for most students, the arrival of the prompts marks the start of the season.
"The good news is that there are few major changes from the past two years, and that the Common Application made what changes it did in response to thousands of reactions from members (the colleges and universities themselves) and the general public. Hats off to the Common App for inviting us to be part of the conversation!
"The bad news -- though I may be alone in feeling this -- is that my favorite question fell by the wayside: Describe a place where you feel perfectly content. Some of the most engaging essays my clients ever wrote were in response to that prompt. One described his lifelong love of German opera, another his passion for being lost. I'm going to think positively about the very engaging replacement question about problem solving.
"Now, for the winning prompts -- and my initial thoughts about them. As in previous years, students can write up to 650 words on just one of these. READ MORE
Please visit my website: Don't Sweat The Essay. Please email or phone me for a consultation: Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com  1-855-99-ESSAY.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Vote on Common App Essay Prompts - and News!

I just came across this survey from the Common Application organization. You have until Monday March 9 to vote on what you think about the Common App essay prompts that have been in use for the last two years. 

I will be closely monitoring the news feeds from the Common Application organization in the coming days. I'm told by sources that they will announce the prompts for the upcoming application season in mid-March - even though the on-line application itself does not go live until August 1st - and most colleges do not announce their own supplements for some time.

Beyond the date, I have no information about the content of the prompts, but I'm hoping that they remain the same as they've been for the last two years. I think those five prompts have been terrific, and allowed students to write well and unselfconsciously about things that matter to them - and that show schools who they are. 

For those new to the application game, the Common App essays are the foundation of the application essays for 500+ colleges and universities. In previous years, students have had to write one essay - from 250 to 650 words - from a list of prompts/topics that the organization and its members (these 500+ colleges) agree upon. As I say, I'm hoping they leave everything in place for this coming year, but who knows?

Many other colleges and universities require additional essays - called supplementary essays, and some schools, including a number of big state universities (CA, TX, WI) as well as MIT are outside the Common App system entirely and require their own essays.

If you have questions or concerns about doing the essays or about your high school son or daughter doing them - or about other aspects of the application process - drop me a line. Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com.

Visit my website: DontSweatTheEssay.com
Or call: 1-855-99-ESSAY