Tuesday, April 29, 2014

College App Essays & the End of Net Neutrality

This blog is dedicated to information about college admissions, often with a focus on college and grad school application essays. I don't blog about political issues here, but I'm breaking the rule because the issue under discussion will directly affect your ability to read this blog, to look at my website, and to have access to thousands of blogs and websites that all of us use every day to navigate the complicated world we live in, whether we're applying to college, looking for information, or shopping for hand-made gifts. 
You've probably heard the term "net neutrality." It means, essentially, that you can click on my website and on google.com, and you can access both sites with equal speed and ease. The end of the net neutrality - which major corporations desperately want and are close to getting - will be the end of your being able to access all but the biggest companies online - the end of it without paying huge fees for that access. Please read an excerpt from this latest article, and if you are moved to sign a White House petition asking the President to "Maintain Net Neutrality," you can read the petition and sign it here. As I write this, the petition has 34,800 signatures. 
For the news and the background, an excerpt from "The Internet is About to Become Worse Than Television" by Annalee Newitz:
"Last week, an obscure but potentially internet-transforming document was leaked from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. It revealed that government regulators are considering rules that would give big companies a chance to make their online services run faster than smaller ones.
"The proposed rules were revealed in the New York Timesand they would overturn the principle of "network neutrality" on the internet. Put simply, network neutrality allows you to use services from rich companies like Google and small startups with equal speed through your ISP. You can read a blog hosted on somebody's home server, and it loads just as quickly as a blog on Tumblr.
"Without network neutrality, Tumblr could cut a deal with your ISP — let's say it's Comcast — and its blogs would load really quickly while that home server blog might take minutes to load pictures. It might not even load at all. You can see why people in the freedom-of-speech obsessed United States might not be happy with chucking network neutrality. It privileges some speech over others, based on financial resources." READ MORE   SIGN THE PETITION

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Yes, #Ivy Admissions Are Tighter For Some Than Before

No, you are not hallucinating. It is harder to get into the Ivies for certain groups of people that would have gotten into them a few decades ago - that is, high achieving, largely affluent American kids. The reasons for this are not news to everyone, but the article in today's Times, "Getting Into the Ivies," analyzing why these numbers have changed, will help all of us understand what kids in the U.S. are up against when they apply to elite colleges and universities. The answer? Follow the money. Ivies are now admitting large numbers of foreign students in large part because they don't need financial aid.

What does this mean to U.S. kids and their families with Ivy hopes and dreams? I could say what people in my field expect me to say: "The right essay will make all the difference." Of course I believe in the essays, but I also believe that it's time for students and parents to look beyond the Ivies in their college searches, and try to come to terms with the fact that the landscape has changed.

Just yesterday, I was talking to a mother in Massachusetts whose daughter is a rising senior. When I mentioned some schools to think about, including an outstanding school in the Midwest, the mother blanched. "I couldn't send her that far away." I sputtered and tried to explain that this wasn't really so far, but before I could finish my sentence, she said, "She has her heart set on Stanford. I would let her go that far if it was to Stanford." Teenagers want to separate from their parents, but they also care what they think, and they pick up their parents' energy and attitudes. Keeping an open mind in this process is a great place to start.

And there's this: Times change. Climates change. Kids change. Even landscapes sometimes change. A great quality to cultivate is adaptability. Have a look at the Times piece and let me know what you think. Here's an excerpt:

"For American teenagers, it really is harder to get into Harvard — or Yale, Stanford, Brown, Boston College or many other elite colleges — than it was when today’s 40-year-olds or 50-year-olds were applying. The number of spots filled by American students at Harvard, after adjusting for the size of the teenage population nationwide, has dropped 27 percent since 1994. At Yale and Dartmouth, the decline has been 24 percent. At Carleton, it’s 22 percent. At Notre Dame and Princeton, it is 14 percent." READ MORE
To visit my website, click here
To email me: liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com
To call me 1-855-99-ESSAY

Finish Your College Application Essay in July on Martha's Vineyard

I'm back on the Vineyard this summer - 2016 - and will be working with students and giving a free talk at the Edgartown Library. Read about it here.

Last summer, I worked privately with a good number of rising high school seniors on Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod, making occasional day trips to the island from Boston, and working by Skype otherwise. This summer, I'll be on the island for 3 weeks, and I'll offer 2 workshops (running concurrently) over a 2-week period, and I'll also do private sessions on and off the island during that time, in person, if possible, or via Skype. (This past year, I worked by Skype with students in Seattle, Hong Kong, Cairo, Alaska and Trinidad.)

If you want to get a head start on the Common Application Essay and you'll be on the Vineyard, consider signing up for one the workshops. If you sign up before June 1, the cost is lower than after June 1. The workshops are Mon/Thurs and Tues/Friday, and each one meets 4 times. By the end of 4 meetings you'll have either a finished essay or a very good draft that I will continue to work on with you - on or off the island - until it's ready to send off. I will also be available to work on supplementary essays.

The workshops will be small, personal, and productive, and you'll come away with a few new writing skills too. Just bring your laptop.

For details about dates, times, and prices, click here and then click through to the SUMMER ESSAY WORKSHOP page. Please contact me with questions and concerns.
To visit my website, click here
To email me: liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com
To call me 1-855-99-ESSAY

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Meet in Hong Kong May 15-23 for Help w/ College Application Essay

I will be visiting Hong Kong for a week - May 15 to May 23 - and meeting with students and parents of rising high school seniors who are interested in applying to college in the U.S. in the fall. My focus is is helping students find their college application essay material and their voices, and helping them craft successful, persuasive essays and personal statements that will show their best selves to college admissions offices.

For those who need test prep, I partner with the folks at Arborbridge, and Josh Stephens, their Director of International Development, and I recently wrote this Huffington Post piece, "International Students: Top 10 Tips for U.S. College Applications."

If you or your son or daughter wants to talk about how we can work on college essays and applications via Skype this summer or fall, please let me know. This past year, I worked with college applicants around the world - including Alaska, Trinidad, Cairo, and Hong Kong. This testimonial is from the student I worked with a Hong Kong. It was usually 8am in NYC, where I am usually am, and 8pm in Hong Kong. P.S.: She got into her first-choice school!

"It was an absolutely wonderful experience to work with Liz. Being a nervous international student desperately looking for help and advice to compose essays for a system I knew nothing about, I'm so glad that I found Liz. I was quite skeptical about this whole process at first, to work with someone from the States while I'm in Hong Kong. I never thought this whole thing could work over internet with her being 8000 miles away from me! But here we are. We worked the whole thing out through Skype and Google Docs. She was very helpful, inspiring, and patient, and she encouraged me to dig up stories within myself that I wouldn't have considered as writing materials otherwise. She helped me to see a bigger picture of where my words were heading, while correcting minor but essential grammar mistakes. She also helped me organize my stories. Liz is an amazing tutor, and I'll always be grateful for her guidance and understanding."

Send me an email: Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com. I look forward to hearing from you. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

10 Tips for International College Applicants

Because of the wonders of Skype and Google Docs, I was able to work with students around the country and throughout the world this past year on their college essays and applications. My far-flung students, all applying to colleges and universities in the U.S., were living in Alaska, Hong Kong, Cairo, Warsaw, and Trinidad, and quite a few in the lower 48. (Even when I work with students in my living room, we are usually on our own laptops, looking over essays on Google Docs - but my love affair with Google Docs is another story.)

I recently had the good fortune to meet Josh Stephens, the Director of International Development at ArborBridge, an innovative test prep service that works with students in the U.S. and around the world. We just teamed up to put together an article on Huffington Post - an annotated list of 10 tips international students should consider as they approach college application season. They range from the practicalities of when you can take SATs abroad to cultivating a good attitude about the complex process to what books you can read to get your essay writing up to speed. TAKE A LOOK 

If you enjoyed this article, please share it using one of the buttons below. Thanks. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Backstage at Stanford's Admissions Office

As everyone and her mother tries to crack the admissions codes of highly selective schools, this article from the Stanford Alumni magazine might be good reading. The short answer to the question: "It's complicated." Another way of putting it: "It's not entirely 'fair.'" But you probably already know that. 

Hat tip to Josh Stephens at Arborbridge (international standardized test prep/tutoring) for calling it to my attention. 

It's call "What it Takes" by Ivan Maisel. Here's a excerpt and the link to the full article: 

"THE GOAL OF THIS PIECE is to demystify college admissions at Stanford, because explaining nuclear physics is just too simple. Clarifying Middle East politics, solving the Riemann hypothesis, defining love—anyone can do that. Let's tackle a subject with some heft to it.
"As my late grandmother would say, "Oy."
Few topics invite more analysis, envy, code-breaking, speculation and hope than college admissions. Across the "United States, applications to elite universities have mushroomed. More than 35,000 students applied to Harvard last academic year, vying for 1,664 spots. Princeton handled 26,498 applications to fill a class of 1,291. At Stanford, applicants totaled 38,828, an all-time high; 2,210 were accepted, or slightly less than 1 in 17. In the coming years, the odds, like afternoon shadows on the Quad, will only lengthen.
"A generation ago, college admissions boiled down to a teenager, a pen-on-paper application and a 13-cent stamp. Oh, for the soothing presence of Dean Fred Hargadon, Stanford's own Lincoln, the towering presence who dispensed cracker-barrel wisdom and fat envelopes to the parents of the current legacy applicants." READ MORE 

To visit my website, click here
To email me: liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com
To call me 1-855-99-ESSAY

Sunday, April 13, 2014

College Decisions Are In-But What About Financial Aid??

For many families, the hardest parts are over: students know where they've been admitted to college, and those without Early Decision commitments are now making up their minds. For many, that will be a challenge. But a more daunting challenge for many others will be financial. How will these bills be paid? What do financial aid packages look like? And ... why is each of them so different? The New York Times has an important article, accompanied now by many hundreds of reader comments, filled with even more information.  
The situation for many is confusing, expensive, and illogical. I'm afraid there are no easy answers and no sunny takeaways to share with you. Perhaps the most important is that financial aid packages include outright grants as well as loans. And you want to do the math here over four years, not just one. Taking out $10,000 in loans for each year leaves you with $40,000 in loans when you finish college. 

Information is power, and the more you have, the better decisions you and your family can make. If you're not sure what to make of it all, you have plenty of company. 

Here is a guide just put out by US News and World Reports about how to decipher an aid package. And here is an excerpt from the Times pieces. I encourage you to read both, and the Times' reader comments.  
"An array of policy analysts from think tanks to the White House say things should change. “It’s a ridiculously complicated system, if you can even call it a system, and a lot of people don’t get it,” said Sandy Baum, a research professor at George Washington University’s graduate education school, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and a leading expert on college pricing. “If you put five aid offers from different colleges together, they’re all different, and it’s very, very difficult to compare. That problem could be solved.”
"In fact, consumers have more tools than ever to decipher college prices and financial aid. College websites are required by law to have net-price calculators, to help people estimate what they would really pay, rather than relying on inflated sticker prices. The government’s own College Navigator provides a range of information on each institution, including costs. And the Obama administration’s financial aid “shopping sheet” aims to let people make apples-to-apples comparisons among colleges, just by using consistent definitions.
"But the price calculators, potentially powerful instruments, vary in thoroughness, ease of use and even accuracy, and most colleges do not use the shopping sheet, which is voluntary. Not only could the tools be better, but many students and parents are unaware of them." READ MORE 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bard College's Bold New Essay Admissions Program

Just out in The New York Times, some of the results of Bard College's bold new program, to ditch the regular college application process and invite students to write four long essays from "a menu of 21 scholarly topics."

"Helen Chen, a senior at a small public high school in San Francisco, is the kind of student who tries teachers’ patience.
“Honestly, in class when I’m not interested in something, because I understand it already, I kind of just stop paying attention,” she said.
"She is more than smart enough to handle the material — she did great on her SATs — but instead of listening to the day’s lessons, she sometimes follows her own curiosity, reading about philosophy, art history and other subjects her school does not offer.
"Behavior like that earned her a D in English class. It also made her a perfect candidate for the experiment that Bard College conductedthis year. In addition to the standard application, which emphasizes measures like grade point average, test scores, extracurricular activities and teacher recommendations, Bard for the first timeinvited prospective freshmen to dispense with all the preamble, and just write four long essays chosen from a menu of 21 scholarly topics. Very scholarly topics, like Immanuel Kant’s response to Benjamin Constant, absurdist Russian literature, prion disorders and artificial intelligence." READ MORE

The Elite Numbers Game~More College Applications Than Ever This Year

The New York Times just posted an article that paints a troubling picture of this year's applications and admissions numbers - more applicants are applying for the same number of spaces than ever, with Stanford's 5% admission rate leading the pack. Who gets in and who doesn't?

"Admissions directors at these institutions say that most of the students they turn down are such strong candidates that many are indistinguishable from those who get in."

The article includes numbers for ULCA as well as several Ivies, suggesting higher levels of competition for spaces across the spectrum of universities and students. There is nothing simple in these equations. There are many forces at work that drive up these numbers and drive down the percentages, from the recruiting done by many colleges and universities - enticing students to apply who don't have a chance of getting in - to the increasing numbers of wealthy foreign students applying and being accepted, in part because they do not need financial aid, to the ease of applying to many schools through the Common Application.

Universities engage in marketing. The schools present themselves as meritocracies, or we want to believe they are, but given the impressive qualifications of so many of the students, and the other factors that go into admission decisions, including athletic ability and legacy admits, merit is only one consideration.

Rather than try to summarize the article, I urge you to read it - and to read some of the top reader comments, which add many more dimensions to this complex story.

Here is an excerpt:

"Enrollment at American colleges is sliding, but competition for spots at top universities is more cutthroat and anxiety-inducing than ever. In the just-completed admissions season, Stanford University accepted only 5 percent of applicants, a new low among the most prestigious schools, with the odds nearly as bad at its elite rivals.
"Deluged by more applications than ever, the most selective colleges are, inevitably, rejecting a vast majority, including legions of students they once would have accepted. Admissions directors at these institutions say that most of the students they turn down are such strong candidates that many are indistinguishable from those who get in." READ MORE

Friday, April 4, 2014

Intellectual Curiosity, Kwasi Enin, and the College App Essay

I've been mulling over Kwasi Enin's Ivy League grand slam for the last few days, reading his college application essay, and reading public comments about him. I collected my thoughts in this new Huffington Post article, "Teachable Moments: Kwasi Enin and the College Application Essay." Here is an excerpt.

"There are simply not enough places at these few schools for all the students with perfect grades and perfect scores. Which brings me to Kwasi's essay, what it reveals about him, and what it reveals about what top schools seem to be looking for.
"It is necessary to have good grades and high SATs for admission, and often a lot of AP courses, and extra curricular activities in abundance -- but in 2014, it is no longer sufficient for these schools. But you might be asking, what else is there that a high school student has to show? How about these? Intellectual curiosity. The ability -- the hunger -- to translate the lessons of one subject to other subjects. A craving for knowledge.
"Intellectual curiosity -- a phrase I rarely hear from anyone these days -- is different from 'academic achievement.' I don't think it's a quality you can fake. And based on Kwasi Enin's essay, he has it in abundance." READ MORE 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Kwasi Enin's Common App Essay--Draft #4

You have no doubt read or heard about Kwasi Enin, the Long Island high school senior who was admitted to 8 Ivy League schools.

Somehow the cagey New York Post got a hold of draft #4 of his Common Application essay, which you can read here. The Post bills the essay as one of the elements, along with top grades and good scores, "it takes to get into all eight Ivy League colleges," but a word of caution for anyone who is looking backwards at his/her own essay, or looking forward, anticipating applying to college soon: Nearly all top schools require a good number of additional essays and short answers to questions for their applications, beyond the Common Application essay. And schools look at the totality of a student's profile, once they get beyond their grades, scores, and the kinds of courses (AP, IB, etc.) they have taken.

As far as essays, among Stanford's 3 or 4 assignments is to write a letter to your prospective roommate. Princeton often asks applicants to reflect on a quotation, and some schools ask for a list of the books you've read, in and out of school, for the past year. And many schools, far beyond the Ivies, ask for additional essays and answers as well. Colorado College asks students to design a course for the 3-week winter semester. And the University of Chicago is famous for its off-beat questions.

Visit my website: Don't Sweat the Essay
Send me an email: Liz@DontSweatTheEssay.com
Call me up: 1-855-99-ESSAY.

And if you like this article, please share it via Facebook, Twitter or Google +.  Thanks!

College Admissions Gone Wild?

It seems we need to be reminded every year of the madness of the college application process - and what it costs in dollars and common sense. For some perspective, take a look at Frank Bruni's column in the Times, and at some of the 300+ reader comments to the piece - which are at least as interesting as what Bruni has to say. 

"Over recent days the notices have gone out, an annual ritual of dashed hopes.
"Brown University offered admission to the lowest fraction ever of the applicants it received: fewer than one in 10. The arithmetic was even more brutal at Stanford, Columbia, Yale. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had a record number of students vying for its next freshman class — 31,321 — and accepted about one in six who applied from outside the state. Notre Dame took about one in five of all comers.
"And right now many young men and women who didn’t get in where they fervently longed to are worrying that it’s some grim harbinger of their future, some sweeping judgment of their worth.
"This is for them. And it’s intended less as a balm for the rejected than as a reality check for a society gone nuts over the whole overheated process."  READ MORE