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 thoughtful, authentic, and effective college essays. 

We are gearing up for a summer busy with college essay support, so students can start senior year with greater peace of mind and less stress. If you are or know a junior who would benefit from our guidance and who might want to work with one of our two essay experts (both Harvard grads who teach writing), contact me to schedule a free, 30-minute consultation call.  

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Fall 2021 Apply Texas and UT-Austin Essay A and Short Answer Topics

UT Austin updates! Time to start writing essays 🙂

Essay Topic for Summer/Fall 2021 Applications — Applying in August

Tell us your story. What unique opportunities or challenges have you experienced throughout your high school career that have shaped who you are today? = this, in most cases, can be your Common App essay!

All applicants must also submit three required short answers and may submit one optional short answer responding to prompts in your admissions application. Answers are limited to no more than 40 lines, or about 250–300 words, typically the length of one paragraph.

Required Short Answer 1:  Why are you interested in the major you indicated as your first-choice major?

Required Short Answer 2: Leadership can be demonstrated in many ways. Please share how you have demonstrated leadership in either your school, job, community, and/or within your family responsibilities.

Required Short Answer 3: Please share how you believe your experiences, perspectives, and/or talents have shaped your ability to contribute to and enrich the learning environment at UT Austin, both in and out of the classroom.

Optional Short Answer: Please share background on events or special circumstances that may have impacted your high school academic performance.

Essays are so important, especially for schools that require as many at UT does. If you are or you know a junior who would benefit from our guidance and who might want to work with one of our two essay experts (both Harvard grads who teach writing) contact us to schedule a free, 30-minute consultation call.  

 

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10 Do’s and Don’ts for Writing the Personal Statement (aka The Common App Essay)

10 Do’s and Don’ts for Writing the Personal Statement (aka The Common App Essay)

Our essay experts know best. Check out these 10 tips from Emma that will help you write the most effective personal statement. End of 11th grade or early summer is the best time to tackle this important essay, so start coming up with a plan now! Interested in working with Emma? Contact us 

  • Don’t worry about the prompts. It’s helpful to read through the prompts to see if doing so sparks any ideas; however, there is no need to stress about writing an essay that exactly “answers” a prompt. Your goal is to write the best essay you can about whatever you decide is best to write about. Working with students 1:1, we totally disregard the prompts and usually find that their essay still easily fits under one of the questions. And, if not, there is often an open-ended prompt such as: “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.”
  • Do open with a scene. A strong opening scene draws the reader into your essay. Admissions officers and their first-round readers have hundreds of applications to get through—make yours stand out from the first sentence. Intrigue them or scare them or make them laugh. Make them want to keep reading.
  • Do focus on a single story. You only have 650 words. Perhaps that sounds like a lot to you: it’s not. There is no reason you should worry about filling it up. Through our process, you will find out how to generate enough detail to write an essay about any story. Nor should you worry about cramming as much as possible into the personal statement. Remember that colleges have all of your application data and that trying to do too much in the essay will only end up making your essay feel rushed and scattered.
  • Do make sure that your story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. You can tell your story out of order—for instance, opening with a scene from a stressful moment in order to build suspense before jumping back into chronology—but you always want to make sure your story has each of these elements. Skipping any single one will confuse your reader and make your story feel incomplete (because it is!).
  • And yet don’t get bogged down in detail. We usually find students have trouble generating enough detail. But sometimes we get a student who is unable to summarize effectively, too. Having too much detail can make your story confusing and also mean that your reader will have trouble understanding what the most significant elements are. It usually also means you don’t have room for reflection—the most important element in the essay!
  • Do present yourself in a positive light. We actively encourage you to tell a story that showcases your vulnerabilities, failures, weaknesses, and mistakes. However, either your narrative or your reflection (or some combination of the two), needs to ultimately redeem you so that your essay, in the end, shows you to be someone who is actively working to improve—to rectify mistakes, move past failures, or strengthen weakness. Your essay should be honest, but its main purpose is to make you seem like someone admissions officers want to see at their colleges! Make sure you come off well.
  • Don’t use huge thesaurus words. Again: you aren’t trying to impress the admissions officers! You are trying to show them who you are—and you are trying to make them like you. Using big words can mean using words you don’t quite know how to use, and that will show. Even if you do know how to use them, unless your essay is about how much you love long words or languages, using the big, 25-cent words can make you sound pretentious and overly formal. The language should sound like you and be relatively casual—not curse-word, talking-with-friends casual, but maybe talking-with-your-grandmother casual.
  • Do use vivid, interesting words and varied sentence structure. Being casual doesn’t mean the writing shouldn’t be good or interesting! Do push yourself to use words you might not use in your everyday speech, and do mix up the sentence structure to keep the writing varied and exciting. Do feel free to include words from your personal vocabulary—words from the language you speak at home or from a regional dialect or words you’ve made up. That can add a lot of texture and personality to an essay. Just make sure you define the words for your reader if the meaning isn’t clear from context.
  • But don’t use emotional language: I was happy; I was sad. Instead, let an action depict the emotional state. That is, instead of saying “I was happy,” you might write, “I couldn’t help skipping a few steps down the street after hearing the news.” And, instead of saying “She was sad,” you might write, “Her shoulders slumped, and she cradled her head in her hands.” You can’t see an emotion, and you always want to give the reader something to see.
  • And don’t use cliche—i.e. common, predictable, overused—language. Cliche language includes (but is definitely not limited to!) phrases like:
    • I need to be true to myself.
    • Time heals all wounds.
    • Every cloud has a silver lining.
    • Good things come to those who wait.
    • I learned more from them than they did from me.
    • Every rose has its thorn.
    • You win some, you lose some.
    • Little did I know.

Of course, your essay might have one of these messages at its heart. Maybe you did learn more from the kid you tutored than they learned from you. Maybe you did find the “silver lining” in a terrible situation. Both of these could make for great essays. But you want to verbalize that realization in your own unique and surprising way.

 

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It’s College Essay Time!

Summer is the best time to write your college application essays, and it’s a process you can and should start now!

The essay writing process might be challenging at times, but it should also be rewarding. Our goal is not only to help students write essays they are proud of and that showcase who they really are to colleges but also to help them improve as writers, so they arrive at college confident and ready to tackle higher-level writing requirements.

Meet our essay experts:

Meet Emma: Emma grew up in NYC but left for Phillips Academy Andover, where she boarded all four years. Before starting at Harvard in 2008, Emma took a gap year during which she worked at a nonprofit in Ghana, taught English in South Korea, began learning Russian in St. Petersburg and took care of horses in the French countryside. At Harvard, she concentrated in Russian History and Literature, studying abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia for multiple summers; she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude. After graduation, she returned to New York and worked in book publishing for two years before attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as a poet, where she taught literature and creative writing. She has since taught composition at various universities, worked as a professional freelance editor, and privately tutored high school students in writing.

Meet Kris: A New Yorker born in Lithuania, Kris graduated from Harvard with a BA in economics, and completed his MFA in fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he received the top student and post-graduate fellowship funding, and where his thesis advisor was Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Harding. In between those two degrees, he worked in finance in Vietnam, started an education consulting company in China, and taught lawyers in Lithuania. His essays and photography have appeared in various outlets, including The Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine, The Browser and The Millions. He splits his time between New Mexico and New York and is working on a novel.

Want to work with Emma or Kris? Contact us to schedule a free, 30-minute consultation call and learn more about our essay process!

 

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May Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors:

Congrats on deciding where you will be attending college if that is the path you are taking!

As graduation nears and high school comes to a close…enjoy yourself! Graduation signifies exciting new beginnings, but also change. Many of the people you are used to seeing every day at your high school are people you might not see often (or again in some cases), so make the most of spending time with these people (and your family!) the next few months.

Juniors:

Keeping it light this month during APs!

-As you wrap up testing, you should begin to think more about your list and application strategy. If you still have schools you want to visit, look ahead to the end of August and early fall to get the most out of campus visits. If you have to go during the summer months, read this post.

-Decide on your courses for next year, keep working on your resume/activity sheet, and firm up all summer plans.

-It is a busy time, but try to consider this process like a class from here on out. You’ll need to carve out time for it every week.

-Looking ahead…it is time for essays! Now would be a good time to start your personal statement. You can review the Common App prompts here and the Coalition prompts here. Start brainstorming.

Freshmen/Sophomores:

See a few additional notes below for “enrichment” activities.

-Focus on your grades. Your transcript is the most important part of your college application. If you have room for improvement, colleges want to see you improve! If you are struggling in any subject, do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help. 

-Continue working on your resume/activity sheet.
-Firm up your summer plans; make the most of summer! If you know you’ll have some free time on your hands…
-Looking for community engagement or volunteer opportunities? Something meaningful to get involved in that you might want to continue throughout high school, someplace where you might make a real difference? Ask upperclassmen how they spend their summers or check out https://www.idealist.org for opportunities near you.
-I am also a big fan of podcasts as learning tools and entertainment! Here are a few I recommend:

A great umbrella site, How Stuff Works includes BrainStuff (science), Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff of Genius (inventions), TechStuff and others. The approach here is like Radiolab, but more specialized by individual topic. You should be able to find a broadcast on just about any area of interest.

TED Talks podcasts. These cover a wide array of subjects and perspectives; this is a “something for everyone” site and the angle tends toward a combination of informative and inspirational.

If you’re looking for some more straight-up academic enrichment, you could check out Math Mutation, which takes an entertaining approach to its subject.

 

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10 Things to Know About Getting Into College

As juniors are now getting their college applications together, I’d like to share and encourage all students and parents of those nearing the process to give Eric Hoover’s 10 takeaways (all of which I have also seen be true) a close read.

Admissions decisions aren’t all about you.

When colleges choose applicants, they’re juggling competing goals, like increasing diversity and bringing in more revenue. Admissions officers aren’t looking for students who fit just one description — say, those who’ve earned all A’s or won the most awards. So don’t take rejection personally.

Grades and test scores still carry the most weight.

Colleges often say they want to get to know the real you, but that’s probably true only if your academic accomplishments (and the rigor of courses you’ve taken) pass muster.

You’re more than a number.

After colleges identify a big batch of students with outstanding credentials, differences among them become more important, admissions deans say. Among some of the attributes they tell me they would like to see evidence of (in essays, extracurricular activities, recommendations) are: leadership, risk-taking, emotional intelligence, fire for learning, critical thinking, curiosity, empathy, optimism, grit, perseverance and the ability to overcome obstacles.

Express your authentic self.

Overwhelmed by slick, boastful essays, colleges are eager for what they call “authentic” glimpses of applicants — their experiences, passions and goals. Some deans believe they’ll get deeper insight through alternative formats like videos, pictures, audio files or documents (an Advanced Placement English paper, maybe). A handful of prestigious schools, including Yale, the University of Chicago, Pomona College, Reed College and the University of Rochester, recently introduced this option. As with essays, too much polish is no good, deans say, so you might think twice about hiring a professional videographer. At Yale, about 400 applicants (out of nearly 33,000) for this year’s freshman class sent in something in an alternative format. In at least one case, the submission — a video showing leadership and impact on others — was, the dean told me, a “difference maker.”

Diversity counts.

Are you a first-generation or low-income student? Many colleges are trying to increase access, so it can help to emphasize your background — and how your personal story relates to your achievements — in essays and interviews. Admissions officers are thinking harder about socioeconomic context, such as the quality of an applicant’s high school, to better understand the opportunities they’ve had and the challenges they’ve faced.

But money does matter.

At many colleges, financial circumstances come into play. Being able to pay all or some of the freight is a bonus. And some qualified students of limited means might get rejected for no reason other than lack of money.

Geography is (partly) destiny.

Many selective colleges want students from all over, ideally from all 50 states. Last year’s presidential election illuminated the urban-rural divide, which some colleges have been trying to bridge by paying closer attention to promising applicants from less-populous areas. Generally, a Northeastern college will look more favorably on an applicant from Montana than an equally strong one from the Northeast.

Legacies aren’t a shoo-in.

Legacy status certainly helps, but big-name colleges reject plenty of these applicants. Don’t assume Mom or Dad’s connections alone will get you in.

Do (real) good.

Turning the Tide” urges admissions offices to reward applicants for sustained community service. And some colleges, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are taking a closer look at what applicants have done to help others, be they neighbors or family members. You don’t have to fly to Belize to do good (admissions officers are often skeptical of these fleeting trips). Showing up to tutor someone at the library each week might be even more impressive, and rewarding.

Colleges want to be your first choice.

About one in five colleges allot “considerable importance” to “demonstrated interest,” whereby applicants convey their willingness to attend the college they’re applying to. Open those emails. Connect with admissions officers. Let them know when you visit campus. Only those who are sure about their first choice and don’t need to compare financial aid packages should choose the strongest expression of demonstrated interest: applying early decision, which is binding.

Full article here.

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