Essays

The Complete College Essay Handbook

The Complete College Essay Handbook

Big news! Our essay book hits Amazon in July!
 
The Complete College Essay Handbook demystifies the entire college essay writing process with easy-to-follow directions and hands-on activities that have worked for hundreds of students.
 
Maschal, a former admissions officer, and Wood, a professional writer and writing teacher, draw on their combined expertise to help students craft a successful set of application essays for every school on their list. Supplemental essays in particular can seem overwhelming—some schools ask students to write as many as six essays in addition to the personal statement. Maschal and Wood identify four types of supplemental essays, walking students through how to write each one and then how to recycle these essays for other schools.
 
The Complete College Essay Handbook walks students through:
 
  • What makes an essay stand out, drawing on sample essays by real students to illustrate main points
  • Brainstorming activities to find the best topics for the personal statement and supplemental essays
  • How to write the two central components of every application essay: scene and reflection
  • Editing and revision—including techniques to cut down or expand an essay to hit the word limit
  • The four types of supplemental essays and how to decode the different essay prompts, using actual essay questions
  • The strategy behind a well-rounded set of application essays
The Complete College Essay Handbook is a no-frills, practical guide that will give students the confidence and know-how they need to craft the best essays for every single school on their list—in less time and with less stress.
 
We hope you grab a copy next month and let us know what you think!
 
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10th and 11th Graders: College Planning Starts Now!

10th and 11th Graders: College Planning Starts Now!

By 10th and 11th-grade college talk should be fairly consistent—especially if you are, or have a student who is—aiming to attend a selective college or university. The majority of our work with students, which includes summer planning, narrative development (your “story” for college), compiling school lists, and completing the personal statement, app data, and a comprehensive resume—starts in 10th and early in 11th grade. If this is you (or your student!) there is no better time to start the process than right now.

Sophomores should consider the following:

  • Starting to prep for standardized exams early. Don’t wait until spring of your junior year to begin prep. We have a small list of tutors that we can highly recommend; don’t leave who you work with up to chance.
  • Meet with your school guidance counselor. S/he will write one of your letters of recommendation for college, and the letter will be much more personal if you know each other.
  • Now is the time to build your story for college! Have you heavily involved with any of your extracurricular activities (other than sports)? Look for leadership opportunities in school and consider activities outside of school as well. Does your resume point toward a major? It should start to at this time, and if it does not, that should be a goal for your summer plans.

And juniors, it’s not too late to:

  • Prep for and take the ACT or SAT. Yes, schools are going to be test-optional this year, but high test scores always help!
  • Meet with your school guidance counselor. S/he will write one of your letters of recommendation for college, and the letter will be much more personal if you know each other. Talk about your goal schools and your high school’s track record at those schools. Get their take on schools that are going to be a fit, and hash out a preliminary application plan.
  • Visit the websites of the schools you are interested in, explore the admissions and academics pages, attend ALL of the virtual offerings offered, and sign up for a peer guide with us to really go above and beyond in your research. Now is the time to kick your college research into high gear.
  • Start your Common App essay brainstorming. Ask us how!
  • Plan your summer wisely. You’ll want to use this summer to round out your resume and make sure it’s pointed toward your intended major, and you’ll also want to finish most of your applications. Make a plan now because you don’t want to be playing catch-up in the fall.

Email us or fill out the contact form to schedule a consult and find out how we can support you in your college planning and application process!

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Common Application Essay Spring Break Bootcamp

Common Application Essay Spring Break Bootcamp

Complete Your Common Application Essay in One Week! 

Have some extra time this spring break? Want to get the most important piece of writing in your college application completed efficiently, effectively, and early? 

In one week of focused 1:1 work, you will be able to check a very important college application item off your list: the Common Application essay.  

In this bootcamp you will: 

  • Attend a live session to learn what makes a successful Common Application essay.
  • Complete our specialized brainstorming process, working with an essay expert 1:1 to decide on the most unique approach to your essay. 
  • Draft your essay and receive detailed, targeted feedback to take it from a rough draft to a polished final essay.

You’ll also get access to sample personal statements by real-life students we’ve worked with (and who have gained admission to selective colleges and universities!).

When is this program offered?

  • This bootcamp is offered on-demand in March and April! Let us know your preferred week, and we will reach out to you with our availability. If we are not available for your preferred week, we will work with you to find another time that fits both of our schedules. 

Who should sign up for this program?

  • High school juniors who are ready to write their Common App essay (aka the personal statement) and who have a few hours daily to dedicate to it over the course of one week. This means they have time every day, for seven days, to work on their essay. 

How do I get more information and pricing?

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2021-2022 Common App Essay Prompts – New Prompt Alert!

2021-2022 Common App Essay Prompts – New Prompt Alert!

 

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

They will also retain the optional COVID-19 question within the Additional Information section.

The new prompt is inspired by scientific research on gratitude and kindness, specifically the benefits of writing about the positive influence of other people in our lives.

This mindset resonates with Common App President & CEO Jenny Rickard. “Particularly at this challenging time, we can help students think about something positive and heartfelt in their lives,” she explains. “And we can do it explicitly.”

In crafting the new option, they relied on the expertise of counselors and admission officers on our Outreach and Application Advisory Committees, along with input from psychology and gratitude researchers. Together, these educators understand the ingredients of a successful essay prompt. The final language they helped to shape balances flexibility with direction. They believe the new choice will generate stories that students are inspired to write and that colleges are excited to read.

An essay prompt can’t erase the loss and anxiety of the last 12 months, but it can validate the importance of gratitude and kindness. The CA hopes students see the new prompt for what it is intended to be: an invitation to bring some joy into their application experience.

Below is the full set of essay prompts for 2021-2022.

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  1. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  1. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  1. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  1. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  1. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  1. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

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February Action Plan – By Grade

February Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors:

  • Once your applications have been submitted, track the status of each app online to ensure all of your application materials were received. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a college is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Check your junk email folder regularly (daily), so you do not miss correspondence from colleges.
  • Interviews! Sign up for interviews for all of your RD schools as soon as possible (where available/and if still open), if you have not done so already.
  • For RD schools, consider writing interest letters to schools that welcome additional information. It might even be beneficial to have an extra LOR sent if you did not send one within the Common App. 

Juniors:

  • Keep prepping for standardized tests (ACT, SAT) and working hard in all of your classes; your grades this year are very important.
  • Do you know what major(s) you will mark on your application? Do you have a clearly defined academic interest or set of interests for your college apps? This is a critical part of your application that should be determined now.
  • Continue working on your resume. Some summer programs, internships, and interviewers may ask for this, so it’s useful to have it handy.
  • Next summer is a wonderful opportunity to do something really meaningful, perhaps even fun, that will help you tell your story for college! Get those plans in place now.; there is still a lot of uncertainty because of COVID, so having multiple plans/irons in the fire is a good idea. 
  • Meet with your school counselor about your preliminary college list and go over your goals and plans for college visits/outreach.
  • Take a college tour via CampusReel. Visiting campus in person is great, but you won’t be able to tour all of the schools on your initial list. Plus, formal campus tours can be a bit limiting! CampusReel is one of my favorite ways to get a real insider look at colleges.
  • Tired of online tours? Sign up with one of our Peer Guides!!! 
  • Start to think about your senior year schedule. Do you know what you will be taking? Your senior classes should be the most challenging of your four years.
  • If you’d like to start your Common App essay early, now is the time. If you are not working with us and would like to on your essays, reach out via the contact form. We help quite a few juniors finish their CA essays over the winter/spring, especially those with busy summer/fall schedules. 

Sophomores and Freshmen:

  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. Work on creating smart study habits this year.
  • Will you be starting your SAT or ACT prep this spring/summer? Begin to decide on a testing schedule and plan for how you will prepare for these exams.
  • Many 2021 summer program applications are now open. Please begin thinking about your plans for summer and work on applications if needed.
  • Start to think about next year’s course schedule. Do you know what you will be taking? Your classes next year should be more challenging than this year.
  • Now is the time to build your academic profile for college, and this means pursuing what interests you academically and intellectually outside of your classes. Have you gotten more involved with any academic extracurricular activities? Have you thought about what you might want to major in? Think about ideas for new and different activities or how to get more involved in your favorite activity (academic and non-academic); exploration now will help you begin determining what you might want to study in college. A great place to start exploring your academic interests is Khan Academy or TedX.
  • One way that your “story” is conveyed in your app is through your resume. Keep working on yours this month.

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Peer Guidance Program: Go Beyond the College Tour!

Peer Guidance Program: Go Beyond the College Tour!

Given campus visit restrictions, students are finding it more challenging than ever before to get a sense of what a college is really like. Prospective applicants want (and need!) information they can’t always get online, and that they would often get by sitting in on classes, going on overnight visits, or even meeting with current students on campus through sports teams, affinity groups, or clubs they hope to join if admitted.

Whether students get to campus or not, we know from experience that they can craft smaller, more targeted college lists that reflect a deep knowledge of schools beyond rankings when they talk to current students and young alumni. Talking to peers is also the single best way to learn more about the social aspects of college and what it is like (realistically!) to follow a certain major path.

With that, we’ve launched a new Peer Guide program!

We have a small pool of college students who are available to meet with high school students and help guide them on all things their school, major, and college life in general. Here’s how it works:

Reach out letting us know the specific school or major you want peer guidance on, and we will let you know if guides are available and share their bio(s). *Please note, as we are piloting this program, we might not have a guide available for your college or major of interest; if one becomes available later, we will let you know

-You choose a guide(s) and let us know how much time you want with them (one hour is typically sufficient). Time with the guide is purchased in one-hour blocks, and we ask that you use the time with your guide within three months

-We intro the student and guide, and they take it from there! This is not a formal mentorship program, and students and guides will schedule their time together directly. *Please note, this is a near-peer, student-to-student program. Guides do not meet with or communicate with parents

We have guides from many popular schools including:

  • Michigan
  • Dartmouth
  • Duke
  • Tulane
  • Stanford
  • Princeton
  • Harvard
  • GWU
  • Georgetown
  • Cornell
  • Notre Dame
  • Northeastern
  • Wake Forest
  • and more!

Email us if you are interested in learning more!

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Optional Components of the College Application

Optional Components of the College Application

If you want to maximize your chances of acceptance, don’t consider any optional components of a college application optional. Here are some common optional components:

  • Essays
  • Interviews
  • Videos submissions
  • Letter of recommendation (any or extras)

Option to write an optional essay? Write it.

Option to Interview? Sign up (then prepare for it…more on that here and here).

Option to create and send a video introduction, for example, like CMC, U Chicago and Bowdoin offer? Do it.

Option to send an extra letter of recommendation, or to send one at all if optional (many schools require zero LORs, so if you can submit one as an option….)? Request one and have it sent.

Why submit optional materials? It means you want to go above and beyond what other applicants will do to demonstrate who they are as well as their commitment to being accepted to the school to which you are applying. You are giving yourself the opportunity to let the admissions committee get to know more about you. More of “you” to evaluate, assuming the you that you present is in a good light, is usually a good thing.

Also, for many AdComs, not submitting optional materials looks lazy. If I have applicant A and applicant B on the table, and all things are equal but A submits extra materials and B does not, there is a higher likelihood I am going with A. I like to see the extra hustle, and colleges do, too.

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Increase in ED/EA Applications from 2019 to 2020

Increase in ED/EA Applications from 2019 to 2020

Curious as to why so many deferrals and flat out rejections in this year’s early round?

Everyone thought they had a chance at a top-top school this year (what we’ve been calling a bit of COVID Confidence) but many admission offices are not playing the same game as in past years. Fewer legacy favors, a greater emphasis on applicants from diverse backgrounds, and yes, huge surges in app numbers have made it a tough early round.

Best pieces of general advice?

  1. Play your cards right with a smart ED 2 choice and broaden your list for RD — it does not get easier to get in during later rounds!
  2. Avoid making the same mistakes twice: have someone (like us!) provide a ding report so you can fix application errors, improve essays, and submit better apps in RD/ED2.
  3. Don’t stop after you press submit. More on this in a later post…

Stats via IECA listserve compiled by JRA.

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Graduate School Personal Statements

Graduate School Personal Statements

Applying to graduate school? We’ve got you!

Many graduate school application deadlines are coming up this month and into Jan-Feb of 2021. There is no better time than now to start working on your personal statement, as well as any optional statements (for example, diversity statements or the “additional information” section of an app). We don’t consider anything optional as optional; it is a missed opportunity to not submit optional materials. Ask us why! 

Reach out for a free 30-minute consult and get started on your graduate school application essays today. 

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Regular Decision Planning

Regular Decision Planning

Regular decision is tough, especially at schools with ED I and ED II, and that report RD admit rates under 10-15%. Even for students with a strong resume and competitive numbers, the odds are unfortunately against you at many schools.

You’ll need something special (or a special combination of skills, experiences, and attributes) to get a fair look at a top-top/uber selective school in RD. It’s a tall order for even the most college-prepared high school student: be at the top of your class with perfect or near-perfect grades, have little/no competition from classmates, a killer resume and academic narrative, and often very important, attend a high school that has an already established pipeline to these schools. You’ll need some awesome essays, too. And high test scores? They still count for a lot at many top schools.

We hate being glass-half-empty folks, but it might help to see that a 10% admit rate = 90% rejection rate :/ 

If your RD list is full of schools with admit rates under ~10% in RD consider balancing with a solid ED 2 option. If you are banking on some EA admits and feel like “going for it” in RD…that makes sense, but don’t be overconfident: COVID may have presented some opportunities in RD last year that they never would have in a normal year, but that might not be the case this year as schools have had time to plan ahead.

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