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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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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Personal Statement Do’s and Don’ts

Personal Statement Do’s and Don’ts

It’s almost time to start writing essays!

Our essay experts know best. Check out these 10 tips from Emma that will help you write the most effective personal statement. Interested in working with Emma? Contact us.

Now is the best time for juniors to start with 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.

For more, grab a copy of The Complete College Essay Handbook. It’s 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.

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Out Now on Amazon: The Complete College Essay Handbook!

Out Now on Amazon: The Complete College Essay Handbook!

Hi. If this were a podcast, this would be the part where we’d say, in our distinct voices: “I’m Brittany.” And then: “I’m Emma.” We’ve been working together to guide students through their college applications since 2016. After a few years, we realized our process was not reflected in any of the essay materials we found elsewhere, so we decided to write it down. What started as internal documents for our students eventually turned into a book. Since it is time to start thinking about essays, remember that…

The Complete College Essay Handbook is available on Amazon

It’s 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. 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

We are excited to get our expertise and years of experience into the hands of as many students as possible—especially now that it’s college application season!

We’d be so grateful if you shared a link to The Complete College Essay Handbook with friends and family, and if you decide to purchase it—thank you, and also consider leaving a review (verified Amazon reviews are huge for increasing exposure). If you have feedback—or just want to say hi—email us at brittemmaessays@gmail.com

Thank you for your support!

Brittany & Emma

Fireside Chat with GenHERation

Fireside Chat with GenHERation

Virtual Event!

Date: Wednesday, October 13, 2021
Time: 7-7:30 PM EST/4-4:30 PM PST

During this virtual session, college admissions expert Dr. Brittany Maschal will discuss how to select the best topic for the personal statement and supplemental essayswhat makes an essay stand out, and the best strategies for presenting a well-rounded set of application essays.

GenHERation will also raffle away a copy of  The Complete College Essay Handbook at the end of the session!


Send The Complete College Essay Handbook to a School, Library, or Non-Profit!

Send The Complete College Essay Handbook to a School, Library, or Non-Profit!

We are excited to get our expertise and years of experience into the hands of as many students as possible—especially now that it’s college application season!

We’d be so grateful if you shared a link to The Complete College Essay Handbook with friends and family. If you decide to purchase it—thank you, and consider leaving a short review!

If you leave a review and share it with us, we’ll send a copy of The Complete College Essay Handbook to a school, library, or non-profit (that serves high school students!) of your choice.

Email us at brittemmaessays@gmail.com to let us know where you want a copy sent.

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. 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

Thank you and write on!

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After You Submit Early College Applications

After You Submit Early College Applications

Add these to your to-do list post-submit!

  • Let your high school counselor know you officially submitted your apps so they get your transcripts and LORs in ASAP.
  • Track your application status. Once your applications have been submitted, you often are provided a “portal” from each school. You need to check this periodically (and be checking your email every day too!). You track the status of your app to ensure schools receive all of your application materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a school is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. *Do not expect portals to be updated automatically; give schools some time and do not immediately email if you sent something but it is not reflected in your portal. They don’t like getting emails asking why it is not updated when you just submitted…two days ago.  Expect things to be slow this year as many schools are working in hybrid formats/not everyone is on campus at all schools, etc. 
  • Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (daily) so you do not miss correspondence from schools. This directly applies to the point above!
  • Continue to learn about the schools on your list (and demonstrate interest) by attending online / virtual events. Tracking interest does not stop once your app is submitted. 
  • Keep track of updates that might be relevant to and positively support your application. Schools benefit from knowing about meaningful awards, new test scores, things like that — not every single tiny thing you’ve done since you pressed submit. 
  • And of course…keep working on essays for ED 2 and RD schools.

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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 Common Application Essay

10 Do’s and Don’ts for Writing The Common Application 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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