Monday, June 30, 2014

5 Pieces of Good News From a College Admissions Application Essay Counselor

Quick, think of five pieces of good news about college application essays. Here's my list of five from my latest Huffington Post blog, "5 Pieces of Good News from a College Admissions Application Essay Counselor." Here's #1: 

1. The good news is that there's plenty of time, but -- as Albert Einstein taught us (see "Theory of Relativity"), there are many definitions of time, depending on where you are and where you want to end up. If you have a summer crammed with work or adventure, with sports camp, math camp, internships on Capitol Hill, and/or a job scooping ice cream at the beach, you may not be able to devote many days or weeks to getting a head start on the essays -- but you can and should put your downtime to good use.
"If you're not going to tackle any of the essays, make a chart of the schools you plan to apply to and the essay prompts required at each, with the number of words and the due dates.
"Will you have to write three essays beyond the Common App essay? Will you have closer to thirteen? Can you use the same material for some essays? Are all the schools you're applying to on the Common App? To date, a few schools have revealed their supplementary essays; most should be available by August 1, when the Common Application goes live. The university synonymous with quirky essays, the University of Chicago, has posted its upcoming essays. You might enjoy the prompts even if you have no plans to apply. (Prompt #1: "What's so odd about odd numbers?")
"Once you have your preliminary list, you might see that you have less time than you imagined you did." READ MORE 
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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Get the Common App Essay Over with on Martha's Vineyard in July

I'm back on the Vineyard this summer- 2016! Click here:

Why not get the essay over with early in the summer? There's so much anxiety around the Common Application essay that getting it over with earlier rather than later can be a huge relief. And a learning experience. If you're applying to schools that require supplementary essays too, and many do, working with me on the Common App essay is a great way to get your writing muscles into shape and get the hang of these often challenging essays.  If you sign up with me to do your essays, I will give you a free copy of "the hippest grammar book ever written," Sin and Syntax, by Constance Hale.  She's funny, smart, and breaks down the elements of good writing with uncommon wisdom and insight. And did I mention that she's funny?

Click on my website and the Martha's Vineyard link to my July workshops. Sign up for a workshop or for private sessions - on the island and around the world via Skype and Google Docs.

To visit my website: Don't Sweat the Essay
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To call me: 1-855-99-ESSAY

Thursday, June 19, 2014

JFK, Kwasi Enin and the College Admissions Application Essays

I've been thinking hard about Kwasi Enin, JFK, and the evolution of the college application essay - and what selective schools really want to know about applicants - for the last few months. Here's a snippet of my latest Huffington Post College blog - just out.

"Students applying to selective schools in 2014 face a barrage of essays that would challenge the literary chops of Mark Twain. The Common Application essay -- most famous, most feared -- has become a genre of its own, with a contest that started this May, and a $5000 prize, inviting students to enter the essays they submitted for admission earlier in the year. And scores of schools require additional essays of every imaginable variety, asking students to design a course (Colorado College), comment on a quotation (Princeton), write a letter to a prospective roommate (Stanford), and to say what makes them happy (Tufts).

"Welcome to the boutiqueification of higher education. In other countries, college applicants may have to take entrance exams that last up to three days, and judgments are based only the results of those tests. Here we judge kids on their grades, tests scores, extra curricular activities, and through a raft of essays that probe their feelings, their writing skills and, to some extent, their intellects. The exotic essay questions enchant, amuse (a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down), distinguish schools and students from one another, and perhaps keep some students from making frivolous applications to colleges that they have no interest in attending, now that the Common Application has made applying easier than live streaming a season of Breaking Bad." READ MORE

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Rape Charge in College Application Admissions Essay?

This New York Times piece is probably the most disturbing story I've ever read about the abuse of the college application essay. It will no doubt get a lot more attention in the coming days. Without knowing anymore than is in this story, I would have to say that a college application essay is not the place to disclose to your mother that you were the victim of a crime. It is tragic if this young woman felt this was the only way she could convey this information to her mother - especially almost a decade after the events were said to occur. 

There may be no simple takeaway from this sad story. Let's call it a reminder to parents to find a way to look at their children's college application essays if possible, at the very least to make sure they are appropriate, and a reminder to students to use their essays to convey relevant information about who they are as students, college applicants, and young adults. 

"NEW YORK — A jury on Wednesday deliberated the fate of a New York man on trial for rape after his stepdaughter wrote in her college application essay about being sexually abused by him as a child.

"Albert Tarrats, 62, of Brooklyn faces a 25-year prison sentence if he is convicted by the jury in State Supreme Court in the borough, court officials said.

"Tarrats was arrested on rape charges in 2012, soon after his stepdaughter, now 18, wrote to college admission officers that Tarrats sexually abused her repeatedly over several months when she was 8 years old, according to prosecutors.

"Her mother read the essay and contacted a rape hot line, which put her in touch with police," Kings County District Attorney spokeswoman Helen Peterson said." READ MORE

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tutor on the Dangers of Oversharing on the College App Essay

All the news that's fit to print? The New York Times' Frank Bruni has a disturbing and fascinating article on oversharing on the college application essay. Did this applicant get into Yale? You'll have to read the entire article to find out, but I think you'll find it worthwhile. P.S. Oversharing isn't an issue with the students I work with. I encourage them to find other topics that are more appropriate.

"THE Yale applicant had terrific test scores. She had fantastic grades. As one of Yale’s admissions officers, Michael Motto, leafed through her application, he found himself more and more impressed.

"Then he got to her essay. As he remembers it, she mentioned a French teacher she greatly admired. She described their one-on-one conversation at the end of a school day. And then, this detail: During their talk, when an urge to go to the bathroom could no longer be denied, she decided not to interrupt the teacher or exit the room. She simply urinated on herself.

"'Her point was that she was not going to pull herself away from an intellectually stimulating conversation just to meet a physical need,' said Motto, who later left Yale and founded Apply High, a firm that guides students through the admissions process. READ MORE

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Tough Questions for a College Application Essay Counselor - Coach

Karen Berlin Ishii, who writes often for the and whose tutoring and SAT prep firm works with students all over the world, picked my brain the other day - and asked me some tough questions about the college application essay. Here are the first two. Click here to read the rest. 
Q: College admissions officers are said to be tired of "community service" trip essays. What's your advice to students who want to write about their moving – though perhaps commonplace – experience?
A: It’s important to understand why admissions people feel this way about this topic, as well as the sports victory or the death of a grandparent themes. It’s not because they aren't meaningful, but as material for the essay, they are very predictable. Admissions folks say that once such an essay begins, it's pretty clear where it’s going to end. It might be better to save this topic for one of the shorter essays, as many colleges ask you to write briefly about a job or extracurricular event.
Q: Similarly, what if "the big football game" really is a student's most compelling topic? How can students write about a cliché experience in a refreshing, engaging way?
A: The problem is predictability. The Common Application prompts are so varied and so probing, I just bet that if a student goes carefully through these prompts, alone or with an adult, he or she will find another subject. If the “big football game” was the most compelling subject, look for the second most compelling subject, and use the football experience, if necessary, in one of the shorter essays.  READ MORE 
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Confessions of a College App Essay Coach - Tutor

It's getting to be that time of year again, so I'm reposting my Huffington Post blog post from last fall, Confessions of a College Application Essay Coach.  Here's Confession #1:

"Confession No. 1. No one has ever asked me to write an essay for her child. Nor has anyone even hinted that this is what she wanted. The students I work with want to write their own essays, and parents often want, not a ghostwriter, but a buffer, someone outside the family to impose some structure and discipline on the process of getting the essays done. You may have heard: children-on-the-verge-of-adulthood usually don't want to spend any more time with their parents than necessary, especially when there is a risk of "nagging."
"Parents often say to me, "There is absolutely no way I can work with my son/daughter on these essays." What follows is one of these lines: "Our relationship is frayed enough. This would be impossible." Or -- a brighter narrative: "My son and I have a great relationship, and I don't want to ruin it."
"But I get plenty of other inquiries: parents whose first language isn't English and those who can tell that the child's essay isn't up to snuff but don't know how to tell them to fix it. Said one mother: "My son's English teacher said his essay is fine, but I know it's not." READ MORE
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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sin & Syntax, College Application Essays & Common App Essay

Take a peek at my updated Don't Sweat the Essay website, with three new testimonials, the Martha's Vineyard Common App Essay Workshop (July 2014), and my free book offer when you sign up with me for the Common Application essay and the supplements. The book is Constance Hale's celebrated Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose.
Why Sin and Syntax? And what am I up to? Good questions. I'll let Constance Hall, Wired magazine's copy editor and the author of the book, begin to answer them: "I didn't intend my books to be textbooks - I think of them as cheeky guides to writing. Maybe that's why students like them! I've been thrilled to learn that they are used by teachers eager to infuse their wards with a love of language as well as a love of getting things right."
My answer? Sin and Syntax is an unusually fun, readable and effective book about good writing - covering everything from word choice to the melody of language - that's been called "the hippest grammar book ever written." My background as a novelist, journalist, editor, and university professor of writing means that I take the long view. I want to help you write the effective essays that will show colleges who you are, and I want to teach you a few writing - and thinking - techniques that will last long after you're done writing your application essays. When you work with me on your essays, dipping into Sin and Syntax will help you make those essays better and better. And it will improve the other writing - and reading - you do in high school, college and beyond.
As a writer and reader, I support independent bookstores, and am purchasing copies of Sin and Syntax from one of Manhattan's few remaining independent bookstores, The Corner Bookstore, which will mail you your copy of Sin and Syntax once you sign up and make the first payment.