Interesting Essays

Interesting Essays

A while ago, I read an article in Fast Company, What does it mean to be “interesting”?

As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think about college admissions essays. So much of what makes an essay compelling is its level of interestingness—that it surprises me or challenges me or helps me learn something that I did not know before. Yet, this is what I find students most frequently get “wrong” when it comes time to choose what to write about.

Because students have been conditioned to think about what matters in the college process incorrectly, they tend to want to focus on uninteresting topics or takeaways in their essays. For example, one of the most uninteresting topics, to me, is the winning of awards and other honors. I tend to find essays about robotics competitions, big games, and other traditional wins to be a bit boring because I have read a lot of them. These are common, almost default topics because students think talking about their accomplishments is what they need to do to impress admissions officers.

These experiences could be interesting but are primarily uninteresting topics because students approach them incorrectly. Instead of focusing on how they experienced the experience itself, how it challenged them or pushed them to think or act differently etc., they focus on the outcome. Therefore, the reader is also left unchallenged, having not been surprised or learned anything new about the writer.

Students should feel confident that admissions officers will see the outcomes of their hard work on their resume—this goes for all awards and honors! There is almost never any need to talk about outcomes of this type in an essay unless a prompt specifically asks (for a supplemental essay, for example, not the personal statement!).

 

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Free Digital Access to The New York Times Until July 6

Free Digital Access to The New York Times Until July 6

Starting this week, all high school students and teachers in the United States can get free digital access to The New York Times until July 6. If you want to sign up here’s how.

And…20 ways the paper can keep you entertained and informed. Hint: you can use it to explore your academic interests!

 

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Why You Should Read the Georgia Tech Blog (Even if You Will Never Apply There)

Because Rick Clarke and the rest of the admissions team are magic. I don’t know any of them personally FYI — but I sure wish I did. If you don’t, please read the GTech Admissions blog — and this post by Katie Mattli!

BEING SEEN—THIS ONE IS FOR THE JUNIORS

As I was falling asleep last night, my head was buzzing with the conundrum of painting a picture of our campus for students in this new climate.  How do I make connections? How do I share a story without the campus backdrop that tells so much without words? How do I help them see us?

Then in the dark, staring at the ceiling, I remembered: we ask students to do this every year. Every time they begin a college application, they are essentially trying to make colleges see them through their only medium: words.  At my fingertips, I have social platforms, pictures, phones, websites, webinars… a whole slew of tools beyond the written word to paint the campus story for prospective and admitted students.  If I only had words, I would have to intentionally craft a careful and thoughtful message.

So, this blog is filled with application tips and thoughts, dedicated to all those soon-to-be seniors who will only be using words to be seen in the admission process.

Head to the GTech blog to read the rest!

 

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College Waitlist: What to Do to Maximize Your Chances

College Waitlist: What to Do to Maximize Your Chances

Some colleges and universities can’t admit all of the students they would like to, so many are put on the waitlist. And this year, COVID-19 might significantly impact yield, meaning more colleges will need to go to their waitlist to fill the incoming class.

Despite more schools possibly needing to go to the WL, getting admitted from the waitlist is not easy. However, it is possible with some work! Although I do not suggest being overly optimistic, there are strategies that have worked for students in the past that I am going to share in this post. Of course, if you want individualized guidance, we can provide it, so please reach out.

First, get familiar with the WL data from past years. How many students are offered spots on the WL? How many accept their spot, and more importantly, how many does school X ultimately admit? Some of these numbers are dismal, but it is best to know what you are up against rather than sit hopefully in the dark. Look at the Common Data Set first (http://www.commondataset.org/). A few other sites to review:

Before getting busy implementing waitlist strategies (below), it is important to deposit at a current top choice school (a school where you have been admitted) and get excited about the prospect of attending. Take advantage of admitted student days and other events that connect you with potential future classmates, including joining “Class of 2024” Facebook groups. These forums are often very informative, fun, and can help you take your mind off the waitlist waiting game.

Once you have accepted a spot on the WL, deposited elsewhere, and familiarized yourself with the waitlist data, I suggest considering the strategies below. Not all of them are novel, but without much to lose, why not do all you can so you can look back without any what-ifs?

  1. Write a waitlist letter. This letter should contain information updating the school on what you’ve been up to both inside and outside of the classroom since the time you applied. Consider including:
    1. A paragraph or two of “academic” updates. Spend some time talking about coursework and school projects, and make connections to future courses of study. You can even drop in related courses you’d like to take at school X, like those you’d include in a Why School essay, but only do this if you did not submit an essay of this type when you applied, otherwise you are being redundant and that is not well-received.
    2. A paragraph or two of “extracurricular” updates but only if significant and can be connected to how you will add value to the school where you are deferred. This includes school and non-school clubs, service commitments, and/or other leadership experiences you can highlight. Like the academic paragraph(s), making connections to similar opportunities you plan to undertake in college can be helpful additions. For example, if you talk about a new project you spearheaded as VP of your school’s Interact Club, you may want to include that you hope to lead a similar project within a specific club or group at school X. Being very specific is important.
    3. A paragraph that talks about the additional ways you have connected with and continued to get to know school X since you applied. This could include setting up an informational interview with a local alum, a current student, reaching out to your local regional alumni group (more on this below), or continuing to connect with your regional rep via email.
    4. A paragraph that reiterates your interest in the school, and that if admitted, you will attend. *If you are not 100% committed to attending, do not say so in the letter.
  2. Send your waitlist letter to your regional rep (if an option) or upload it on your applicant portal. Ask whoever you address it to if they have any advice for you as a waitlisted candidate. Keep this line of communication open; do not email updates every week, but stay in touch to continue to demonstrate interest.
  3. Ask your guidance counselor to call the admissions office and advocate for you, as well as provide any additional information they may have that will support your candidacy.  Ask them to back up what they say on the phone in an email if they have time and are willing. Make sure they send updated grades/transcripts promptly. Your grades should have remained the same or gotten better, not dipped.
  4. Obtain and have an extra letter of recommendation sent, but only if the school welcomes extra LORs (some schools explicitly state on their WL docs they do not welcome or want extra LORs). A teacher, coach, or someone else close to you who can speak to your potential contributions to the university could draft this letter. *Side note on alumni letters­ and letters from well-known and or famous people. Many students ask if these are helpful to send, and the answer is no unless the person knows well you or they are a very high-level donor with solid connections to admissions (even then why count on someone else?!?). If you think that a big name vouching for you will help, it generally doesn’t as a stand-alone factor, and officers can see through these often brief and less than meaningful notes.

Consider the following strategies in addition to the tried and true tips above:

  1. Check if school X has a local alumni group (Google search) and if so, reach out to them and ask if there is anyone willing to meet with you via Zoom or Skype for an informal informational interview. Use this meeting as an opportunity to learn more about the school, and demonstrate your interest in attending.
  2. Use social media to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to follow your WL school on FB, Instagram, Snap or other social channels, or Tweet to them your desire to attend. Don’t forget to open all email correspondence from the school, as schools track opens/clicks as interest.

I’m often asked if I think doing everything on this list is too much, and I do not. All of these strategies are acceptable forms of demonstrating interest even when combined. Accepting your spot on the WL is a standard, required communication. Sending a waitlist letter, and even a follow-up email after a few weeks (for example, to inform admissions of an award at school, National Merit, a promotion at work, or admission to a selective internship/summer program) is not communication overkill. When a counselor calls a school on your behalf to advocate for you or facilitates the sending of an extra letter of support sent, it’s not viewed as bothersome.

Now… showing up on campus and begging, pleading, showering everyone in the office with gifts, staying for two hours until someone meets with you, or other over the top gimmicks or antics would be looked down upon, so please understand that this type of behavior is not appreciated or welcomed. The good thing is, you can’t show up on campus now, but I am leaving this note as a reminder of the level of inappropriate that is a big no.

Ultimately, you want to look back on being waitlisted and feel like you gave it your best shot!

More questions about the WL? Email us!

 

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We’ve Got You!

We’ve Got You!

We know this may be an uncertain time for you and your family, and we want to make sure that you know we are here to support you as you await your admission decisions, decide where you want to enroll, and try to figure out the rest of the school year.

If you are already working with us, please know that you can reach out at any time.

If you are not working with us and you need support as you navigate enrollment options or the transfer application process, please reach out. We are happy to answer questions at no charge, as appropriate (be mindful there are limits as to what we can advise on at this time), if you can no longer receive support from your in-school counseling staff and teachers. You can reach us through the contact form or via social media.

If you know a student without support at this time, please have them reach out.

Keep checking back as we post about important admissions-related updates. A few include:

ACT & SAT Testing Updates

The College Board and ACT are canceling and rescheduling some spring test dates. ACT updates are here and SAT updates are here. Students should plan to check for updates regularly, as things have changed very recently.

NACAC College Admission Status Update

NACAC has developed a tool that compiles updates from colleges and universities about how they are adapting to the impact of COVID-19. Many colleges are changing policies around school visits, deadlines for replying to offers and submitting enrollment deposits, and sharing other ways to get in contact. Please find the tool here.

Stay healthy and positive!

 

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Campus Visit Canceled? How to Get to Know Colleges Online

Campus Visit Canceled? How to Get to Know Colleges Online

The in-person campus tour is not the only or even the single best way to get to know a school, which is a good thing considering COVID-19 is causing most schools to cancel their on-campus visits programs. Neither is that gigantic Fiske guide, College Confidential (that site is stress-inducing, please stay away from it, same with Reddit), or what your older sibling or cousin told you based on findings from their college search process.

Meaningful college research should take place in several different ways, and luckily, it can take place from the comfort of your own home.

Here are five ways you can continue your college research and get to know schools while on-campus visits are on hold.

College/University Websites

Read the websites of the schools on your list, and not just the admissions and financial aid pages. I would read those—but to understand how to apply, not why to apply…unless it is one of the admissions office/officer’s blogs that I talk about here, as those might help you see why you’d want to attend.

I suggest starting with the pages of the department in which you hope to study (or think you might hope to study). What does the curriculum look like? How many and what types of classes are offered? Are there affiliated clubs, events, other special programs of interest? Find a faculty member who is undertaking research in your area of interest and reach out to them with three or four questions you have about the program or their research that you can’t find answers to online. If they are unable to speak to you, ask if they can suggest someone else who might be able to help. Can’t get through to any faculty members? Contact the department’s administrative assistant or department coordinator and see if they can help you make an initial connection. For example, here you can find the contact info for the program coordinator of Penn’s Department of Psychology. If not, ask your regional rep to help you get this information.

I also suggest pinpointing two or three clubs you might want to join. See if you can connect with a current student or faculty lead within each to learn more. Most club’s general admin contact info is posted online. Here is the contact info for Fordham’s Finance Society, as well as a zillion contacts for USC student clubs.

Lastly, you might want to get a sense of what the campus looks like and can do so via a virtual tour if you can’t go in person. Many colleges provide virtual tour options now. For example, here is one created by Santa Clara University in California.

CampusReel

Speaking of tours, whether you can get to campus in person or not, you will want to check out CampusReel for an insider look at the colleges and universities on your list. Real college students submit video clips that take you through a day in the life, dorms, dining halls, classrooms, and so on. For example, I enjoyed this video from a UC Santa Barbara student on what she wished she knew before she started. You will also get a pretty good sense of what the campus looks like in reality as the guides are not employees of the admissions office, and what you see is probably closer to what you will get compared to the virtual tour created by the school.

Coursera and edX

If you can’t get to campus and glimpsing a school’s academics firsthand is important to you (it should be!), then head over to Coursera and edX and sign up for a class. They are free, informative, and you might learn something, not to mention they give you an extra talking point (or ten) for application materials and interviews. You will get a sense of what college-level courses entail, and I also see it as a way to demonstrate interest. A few classes I like and have had students take include:

Network with Local Alumni Groups

Don’t know anyone who went to your dream school? Look no further than your local alumni group. If you are not sure if your area has an alumni group, ask Google. I entered “NYU alumni club NJ” and got the link to info on the NJ group right away. You will be sending a cold email but I don’t see anything wrong with that. You are showing interest in their alma mater. If someone is a member of their alumni group, they probably like to connect with people like you. You are demonstrating a desire above and beyond other prospective students to get to know the school, and they love their school! That is never a bad look. And if no one replies to you, at least you know you tried. If there is no local or regional group where you live, try to locate one closest to you. Again, there is really no downside to trying to connect with alumni to learn more about their school.

Social Media

Not the best way to get to know a school well, but some college accounts are not half bad. I follow a few schools on Instagram, and the “takeover” stories by admissions office staff and students can be insightful. I particularly like the UChicago and Barnard pages.

If you believe in finding a school that is best matched with your goals for college (not just a school with a certain brand, good sports team, etc.), the above outreach will help you figure out which school that might be—so use this time to get researching!

 

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Kids Don’t Need to Stay ‘On Track’ to Succeed

Kids Don’t Need to Stay ‘On Track’ to Succeed

When parents portray success as a linear progression of SAT scores, acceptance to selective colleges, and high-powered internships, they set kids up for disappointment.

An important article by Madeline Levine (for parents and students!) that you can read here via The Atlantic.

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Regular Decision Notification Dates

Regular Decision Notification Dates

Colleges and universities are releasing regular decision results this month and into April. Schools often post results in advance of their “official” notification dates.

My favorite college-admissions-related data site, College Kickstart, has compiled release dates along with the notification dates from last year, which might help you predict when a school will release early. Bookmark this page, as they post updates often.

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Call for Applications: Experimental Study Program for Teens

Call for Applications: Experimental Study Program for Teens

Cool program alert!

Experimental Study Program
Spring 2020 Season
February 26–April 29
Applications due February 9

This spring, the New Museum offers its free semester-long program for young people aged fifteen to nineteen. Participants will meet from 4 to 6 p.m. every Wednesday from February 26 to April 29 (excluding April 15). Now in its fourteenth season, this program provides youth the chance to learn about contemporary art and engage in intimate, critical discussions about culture.

Through a series of workshops, young people will have the opportunity to collaborate meaningfully with peers and guest artists. This season, the Experimental Study Program (ESP) will explore contemporary portraiture and figuration. The program will take as its starting point the work of Jordan Casteel, whose exhibition “Within Reach” includes large-scale paintings of people she encounters in various settings, including individuals from her neighborhood of Harlem and, more recently, her students at Rutgers University-Newark. Participants will meet Casteel and discuss ideas and approaches to portraiture with her. Throughout the remainder of the season, we will consider the variety of ways that she and other artists use the figure—from expressive and intimate to wildly satirical, abstract, and surreal depictions of the human form—experiment with their own, and reflect on how these choices intersect with identity, representation, social histories, and imaginations.

The Museum seeks applications from people between ages fifteen and nineteen who are curious about contemporary art and enthusiastic about connecting with their peers.

The Experimental Study Program is free.How to Apply:

  • Click here to apply
  • Fill out the application and respond to the prompts
  • Include the contact information of a teacher, counselor, or supervisor who can provide a reference
  • Submit the completed application by February 9, 2020

 

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