School Specific Essays and the Impact of Word Limits

School Specific Essays and the Impact of Word Limits

As with the personal statement, there is no set “formula” for writing an effective supplemental essay—and sometimes the best essays are the ones that thoughtfully and creatively break the rules! That said, here is a general overview of how we approach both long and short supps:

  • Action: Open with a gripping hook, e.g. a vivid introductory anecdote, provocative statement, or weird fact. (Long, 1-8 sentences; Short, 1-3 sentences)
  • Backstory: Give the backstory behind your opening; explain how it connects to your life and your interests. (Long, 1-5 sentences; Short, 1-2 sentences)
  • Action Continues/Progress: This is the heart of the essay, and the place where you tell your story as it relates to the prompt. (For both Long and Short essays: This section should constitute the majority of sentences and paragraphs in your essay.)
  • Reflection and Conclusion: Conclude by connecting back to the opening hook and/or by looking to the future. (Long, 2-4 sentences; Short, 1-2 sentences)

As you can see, our approach is the same for both long and short essays. However, long essays allow for an extended introduction with a longer scene or story, additional paragraphs that allow for more depth and detail in the body of the essay, and a comprehensive conclusion. Short essays will have highly condensed introductions and conclusions, as well as fewer body paragraphs and less detail. This is why we strongly advocate writing long essays first: it’s easier to go back and trim detail than it is to add detail to a short essay.

Pro Tip –> “Less is more” doesn’t apply to college admissions essays: all of your essays should be as close to the word limit as possible. If you don’t max out the word count, it can look like you haven’t put in max effort. Being 5-10 words shy of the limit is fine, but only writing 200 words for a 250-word essay can look lazy.

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Ten Tips for Writing College Specific Essays / Supplemental Essays

Ten Tips for Writing College Specific Essays / Supplemental Essays

Time to write those supplemental essays…

  1. Don’t forget your reader. There’s a lot you don’t know about the admissions officers who will read your file—where they come from, what they have experienced, and what they personally value and believe. Keep this in mind as you write. Are you expressing some potentially divisive opinions? Be careful to do so in a thoughtful, nuanced way that appreciates the “other side.” Are you talking about a community that you are not a member of? Make sure that you are using culturally competent and correct language. Are you writing about an experience in a foreign country? Be wary of falling back to cultural stereotypes. The last thing you want to do is show a lack of sensitivity or understanding and offend your reader as a result.
  2. Do show social and cultural awareness, and especially empathy and understanding, for people who are different from you. Every college wants to admit kind, open-minded students who are going to embrace diversity and be a positive force in their community.
  3. Don’t forget to tell a story. Many students write the personal statement then think they’re done with being personal. This is not the case! One of the biggest problems with many supps is simply that they’re boring. The best way to bypass this issue is to craft a personal narrative around whatever you’re writing about, whether it’s leadership, creativity, or your potential major.
  4. Do show an understanding of a school’s mission and values. Linking your experiences or goals to a given school’s values (usually stated explicitly in their mission statement) is an excellent way to add an extra layer of specificity to an essay. It is also important to be sensitive to a school’s values for other reasons: if, for instance, you are applying to Brigham Young University, you wouldn’t want to submit an essay denigrating Christianity or any values specific to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  5. Don’t just copy-paste information from the school’s website. You need school-specific information in many supplements, especially the why school or academic interest supplement. If you only copy some information you found in the school’s website without explaining how and why that information will apply to your college experience, your essay will seem shallow. Be specific in connecting what you learn about the school with your goals and past experiences.
  6. Don’t try to be too funny. You want to preserve as much of your personality as possible but humor is one of the hardest things to recreate on the page. A written joke—without your gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice to guide the listener—can come across as corny at best and cynical, or even mean, at worst. Be extra mindful of this if you are trying to incorporate humor into your essays, and trust an adult’s judgement if you’re unsure.
  7. But don’t take yourself too seriously! A lighthearted approach to any topic will make your essay more readable and more engaging and—bonus!—make you seem more fun and approachable in the process. Colleges don’t necessarily care about admitting fun or approachable students but they do want students who will contribute to the community—and these attributes usually indicate that you will.
  8. Do look for ways to show self-awareness. You can get away with almost anything—a bad pun, a selfish thought—if you call yourself out for it in your essay. Doing so also displays a high level of self-knowledge and maturity that colleges value.
  9. Don’t brag (or humble brag), rehash your resume, or focus too much on academic awards or honors. A compelling story, not a big award, is what will make your application unique and memorable.
  10. Do try to be yourself, while keeping the suggestions above in mind. It’s no fun reading essays that scream you are “trying too hard” to be something you think colleges want.

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College Specific Supplemental Essays: Strategy/Tips

College Specific Supplemental Essays: Strategy/Tips

One of the reasons that we like students to have a sense of their college list when they start essay writing is that each essay does not exist in a vacuum. Everything submitted with a college application needs to work together to tell the fullest story possible about who you are, what you are all about, and the value you will add to the school that’s reading your application.

Complement your Personal Statement—don’t compete with it. You should aim to make sure all of your supplemental essays are as separate from the personal statement as possible. For instance, if my personal statement is about my passion for dance (my main extracurricular), and a school requires what we call a creativity supplement in The Complete College Essay Handbook, I would choose to write about something other than dance for the PS because I might want to focus on that in the supplement.

Present a rounded picture, even if you are narrow. Notice that I didn’t say be well-rounded. I don’t advise that! But imagine you apply to a school that requires two supplemental essays. One prompt clearly calls for an academic and intellectual interests (AII) essay, and the second is open-ended. You wouldn’t want to write a second AII essay for that school. Although college is first and foremost about academics, you want the opportunity to present as many parts of yourself as possible; go with any one of the other three types of supplemental essays that we outline in detail within The Complete College Essay Handbook! Every single college applicant should be able to write an impact and influence and community and identity essay.

Consider the school’s values. Sticking with the same example: if a school asks for two supplements and one prompt clearly calls for an AII essay, and the second is open-ended, in addition to writing a different type of supp, you should also take the school’s mission and values into consideration. For instance, since Jesuit schools like Santa Clara, Fordham, and the University of San Francisco tend to value service more than some secular schools, an impact and influence essay would be the best choice for the second prompt. Conversely, a liberal arts college with a long history of political activism, such as Wesleyan, Smith, or Oberlin, might react more favorably to a community and identity essay with an impact twist.

Use your best story. Imagine you have one just incredible story, and it fits perfectly into the impact and influence type. You write the essay—it’s great, and you love it! Then you realize that your top-choice school asks for a community and identity essay. What should you do? If your story is really that good, you are actually better off turning that impact and influence essay into a community and identity essay—even if it feels like a bit of a stretch. Admissions officers will remember how you made them feel—not that you didn’t answer the question quite as accurately as another applicant.

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The Purpose of & How to Tackle College Specific Essays (Supplemental Essays)

The Purpose of & How to Tackle College Specific Essays (Supplemental Essays)

The supplemental essays (or “supps” as we call them) are a chance for you to “supplement” your personal statement (aka the Common App essay) with more information about who you are and what makes you tick. Although many supps ask you to write about seemingly straightforward topics, like your extracurriculars or academics, they are not merely an opportunity to rehash your résumé or the activities section of the Common Application. They are, like the personal statement, an opportunity to tell another deeply personal story—not to brag about your brag-worthy accomplishments. Remember: it is stories, not accomplishments, that will make your application memorable.

For your essay to count as a story, it needs to tell a narrative that charts personal progress and change. Maybe your résumé is full of community service, and though you love it now, when you started, it felt like a chore. Tell that story. Maybe you played piano for ten years only to quit in tenth grade so you could devote more time to your real passion—computer science. Tell that story. Maybe you founded a club, and no one came to the first meeting, but you decided to keep going, and now you have a small but devoted core group. Tell. That. Story. In other words: Tell the unvarnished true story, even if that story isn’t neat or pretty. Those are the best stories!

Although supps present a valuable opportunity to make yourself even more memorable to your favorite schools, they also present a daunting amount of work: the majority of schools require at least one supplemental essay, and some, like MIT and Wake Forest, ask you to complete five or more. Many students we work with end up having to complete, on average, ten to fifteen sets of supps, or anywhere from eight to twenty additional essays. This is an insane amount of writing, and it can seem especially challenging because the prompts for these essays appear to vary greatly from school to school.

Don’t be daunted. You don’t have to write twenty unique essays!

Over the years, we have identified four types of essays that admissions officers most commonly look for. The students we work with write, on average, these four essays that they are then able to adapt and repurpose for different word counts and prompts.  They are:

  • Academic and Intellectual Interests
  • Community and Identity
  • Creativity
  • Impact and Influence

And following our method, you can do this too! In The Complete College Essay Handbook, we provide:

  • An overview of the type, with writing advice
  • Sample essays to show you how it’s done at different word limits
  • Both obvious and less-obvious prompts, so you can get a sense of the ways colleges phrase each question
  • A brief brainstorming questionnaire targeted to that type

We also show you how to adapt your essays for higher or lower word limits and how to repurpose your essays for the few prompts that fall outside of the four types. Using our methods, you’ll be able to maximize your time by writing fewer, but more effective and widely applicable, supplemental essays.

Get a copy today (paperback or ebook option), or if you are interested in working with us 1:1, reach out via email!

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Rising Sophomores and Juniors: College Planning Starts Now!

Rising Sophomores and Juniors: College Planning Starts Now!

College counseling is not a program that you simply sign up for—it’s a relationship, and a process that takes place over an extended period of time.

The majority of our work with students—which includes academic planning, narrative and extracurricular development (your academic and EC “story” for college), a strategic college list, and completing essays, app data, and an extended resume—starts in 10th or early in 11th grade.

Rising soph’s and juniors can:

  • Start 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 who we can highly recommend; don’t leave who you work with up to chance.
  • Meet with your school guidance counselor. They will write one of your letters of recommendation for college, and the letter will be much more personal if you know each other.
  • Build your story! Have you been heavily involved with any of your extracurricular activities (other than sports, in which you can’t major)? Look for impact and leadership opportunities. More importantly, does your resume point toward a major or intellectual interest? What is your story, and how is it told on your resume?
  • Plan your summer wisely. You’ll want to use this summer to build your resume and make sure it’s pointed toward your intended major.
  • Visit the websites of schools you are interested in. Explore the admission and academic pages, start to attend virtual offerings, and track your contact with schools. It should be exciting to kick your college research into a higher gear this summer. How else will you get to know schools (rankings do not count, they are meaningless)? Don’t forget to connect with your reps, too.

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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Summer 2022 Small Group Creative Writing Workshops

Summer 2022 Small Group Creative Writing Workshops

Small Group Creative Writing Workshop 

Do you want to expand your interest in creative writing, especially as you seek to pursue studying the humanities or other liberal arts majors in college? Are you looking for mentorship as you work toward opportunities to publish your work and/or compete in writing competitions? Join our creative writing workshop group this summer!

During weekly meetings, groups of 4-6 students will refine their understanding of the techniques that define each creative genre—fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. There will be two classes on fiction, two classes on poetry, and two on personal essays. Students will leave each class meeting with a new piece of writing, on which they’ll receive detailed, personalized feedback.

Course Structure:

  • The course consists of eight live sessions 
  • Each session is for 1.5 hours over Zoom
  • Each meeting will consist of a half-hour of lecture and discussion, a half-hour of in-class writing time, and a half-hour of sharing that writing for feedback from the instructor

Course Requirements: 

  • Students in grades 9-12
  • Submit a writing sample with the application
  • Have a strong command of the English language  
    • TOEFL score of 100 minimum

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Summer Writing Mentorship

Summer Writing Mentorship

We’ve got a new writing mentorship in addition to our college application essay offerings! Share it with all the writers in your life:
 
Are you a young writer beginning to craft your own poetry, fiction, or drama? A student planning to submit writing for competitions, awards, or prizes? A high school or college student who wants guidance on how to write compelling academic essays? Our one-on-one writing mentorship program will meet you wherever you are and help you develop into a more confident, polished, and effective writer.
 
If your interests are primarily in creative writing, we’ll workshop your pieces, develop a personalized set of writing exercises and prompts, and—of course!—discuss your favorite literary works and discover some new ones that can shape your own writing. Should you decide you’re interested in submitting some of your pieces to publications or contests, we’ll work together to move through the submission process from start to finish.
 
If you’re looking to become a stronger academic writer or essayist, you can expect a rigorous, customized combination of editing assistance and targeted exercises that focus on any specific weaknesses in your writing, whether you’re a beginner writer developing the fundamentals or an experienced one refining your style.
 
You won’t just improve the nuts and bolts of your writing—you’ll gain a mentor who can help you navigate your literary struggles, interests, and ambitions. For more info, write to hello@brittany.consulting. Let’s get writing!
 
 
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What Admissions Officers Look For In Essays

What Admissions Officers Look For In Essays

Georgia Tech says it best when it comes to essays! 

What we are looking for…

Essays are evaluated for both content and writing/grammatical skills. So, before submitting your application, you should take the time to edit and review your essay thoroughly. Strong essays:

  • Demonstrate authenticity and thoughtfulness
  • Brings you to life on paper
  • Are excellent in topic, style, and grammar

They also share a few other tips…

  • Get started early. Don’t wait until the last minute to complete your essays!
  • Don’t write what you think we want to read. Write what you want to say!
  • Don’t blow off the essay! We wouldn’t ask you to write it if we didn’t find it to be an important way to get to know you, and what you have to bring to Georgia Tech.

What we have to say…

Excellence in topic, style, and grammar is our Essay Expert’s area of excellence, and where we have been told we add tremendous value in our 1:1 work with students as we help them craft surprising, authentic, and effective college essays. 

We are gearing up for a summer busy with college essay support so that students can start senior year with less stress (and ready to submit apps!). If you are or know a junior who might want to work with one of our essay experts, contact us to schedule a free consultation call.  

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TODAY! 3/14 at 8pm Eastern: Test Prep and College Planning Open Forum Q&A

TODAY! 3/14 at 8pm Eastern: Test Prep and College Planning Open Forum Q&A

Join us on March 14th at 8 pm eastern for a casual discussion on all things test prep and college planning. We’ll be presenting a few of our top tips and strategies but will leave most of the session open for your questions. This session is for students and parents.

Register here!

Hope to see you on March, 14th!

Start Now: College Counseling for High School Juniors

Start Now: College Counseling for High School Juniors

We’ve seen too many students wait until the summer after 11th grade to try to develop and implement the strategies needed to tackle the college application process successfully and with ease. Often, there is just not enough time to do the pre-work that results in the most effective essays, outreach, and positive admissions outcomes.

The best time to start? Now.

Juniors, right now you can:

  • Develop relationships with admissions officers and regional reps (the people who make key decisions on your application) as well as current students and faculty (we can fill you in on why these connections are so important)
  • Open up a Common App account to get familiar with the system + complete the base data
  • Make the best of campus visits and leverage contacts at colleges on these visits
  • Craft a preliminary college list that maximizes the 5+ application plans colleges now use
  • Start brainstorming for the Common App essay (the MOST important essay of most apps)

We hate seeing the second half of junior year go to waste!

Contact us today to discuss what you can do now to always stay a step—or three—ahead of the game.

We are also co-hosting a free online event on March 14th at 8pm eastern. Join us to hear top tips and effective strategies for the college process + ask us anything in the live Q&A! Register today! 

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