Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Essay Scandal at Columbia University

A sort of scandal erupted around Columbia University's admissions essays this year - when a file in which accepted students' application essays got picked up & went viral - until the site was taken down. Read the story - and some of the essays - here. BTW: Columbia accepted a slender 6.9% of its applicants this year.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hollywood Goes to College ~

For my latest piece on Huffington Post, about how the college admissions process is depicted in two new Hollywood movies, please click here ~ Tina Fey's Admission and Denzel Washington's Flight. And thanks, as always, for reading. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

No Sample Essays ~ Why?

Some of the more popular sites for those looking for help with college admissions essays provide sample essays - essays from specific colleges, "winning" essays, "essays that worked," and so on. I have thought long and hard about whether to include sample essays on my website - either essays by my clients or some of the essays provided by other colleges. And the answer I keep coming up with is "No." No sample essays. 

Why not?

I think looking at sample essays once a student is nearly finished with his or her essays can be valuable - though I don't believe it's necessary. But I feel strongly that looking at sample essays before writing yours can be intimidating, misleading, and/or distracting.  


The most important elements of your college or graduate school essays are your voice, your experience, your perspective, and your words. College admissions officers say this over and over. Here's a "tip sheet" from an admissions officer at Connecticut College that appeared several years ago in The New York Times. The author urges you to write about yourself, use your own voice, and to be genuine. She's got some other advice worth looking at too, but it's important to begin with these. The process of doing your essays is the process of figuring out your topics, finding your voice, and making the essays yours. Reading sample essays will introduce you to other people and other voices, but may get in the way of you finding your own voice. You are unmistakably you. That's the person the colleges want to get to know. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

To Read Your Child's College Application Essay--Or Not

There is no end to the ethical, emotional, and grammatical issues that the world of the college essay brings up, all of them fraught and consequential. I frequently come across this one with my clients - Should I show my parents my essay? - and there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

I often advise the students to wait until they have what we think is a close-to-finished draft. But sometimes students don't ask my opinion and show their parents the essays. Sometimes the parents look at them - on a computer, say - before they've gotten permission from their children. It's occasionally happened that after I've given students comments on an essay, they'll come back with my version and their parents' version - and that's complicated: Whom should the student listen to? The parents or me? I don't like putting students in that bind.

This new piece on Huffington Post, "Is It a Parent's Right to Read Their Kid's College Essay?" is about an applicant who refuses to let his parents see his essay. His father agrees with him; his mother does not. Strife ensues. My reaction is that for this student, his position made sense, but that it might not for all students. High school seniors are in a tender, complicated place, one foot in childhood, one foot in adulthood. Boundaries rise and fall; tempers flare. There is a lot at stake in these essays.

Read the article and let me know what you think!

Common Application College Admissions Essay News Flash!

Major changes have recently been announced about the Common Application essays. You can read about them here in detail. Short version:

1. The essay topics have changed, the "topic of your choice" has been eliminated, and the essay must be from 250 to 650 words - word length strictly enforced.

2. The shorter second essay has been deep-sixed (1000 characters on a job or extracurricular activity).

I'll post more when I've had a chance to look at the topics more closely.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Yale University on What Matters in Your College Application

Yes, this website puts forward Yale's unique perspective on the different elements of your college application, but I believe it applies to the college admissions process in general, and particularly the application essays.

This comment is from one of the admissions officers. It confirms that there is no special formula for writing good application essays, except that students write from their own perspectives, in their own voices:

We have read wonderful essays on common topics and weak essays on highly unusual ones. Your perspective – the lens through which you view your topic – is far more important than the specific topic itself. In the past, students have written about family situations, ethnicity or culture, school or community events to which they have had strong reactions, people who have influenced them, significant experiences, intellectual interests, personal aspirations, or – more generally – topics that spring from the life of the imagination.