How to Gear Up for College Essay Writing

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

Why? It’s one of the most valuable resources for writers. You write a lot when applying to college, and beyond cranking out apps, it’s a process that lends itself to learning how to write well. To me, it’s a must-read!

 

Why? Over four weeks, you will be guided through a series of video exercises with questions and prompts to self-reflect about all the foundational elements of your backstory. From it, you will better you understand how the elements of your backstory have set you on your path in life. This is a must if you are going to write an effective personal statement.The process works: YouSchool has taken thousands of people through it and knows that if you do the work, you’ll gain a clear sense of what story you’re living in. You are also provided the structure to engage in deep conversations with people you trust (parents, teachers, friends, college counselors!). BackStory is a fantastic way to gear up for personal statement writing.

 

Why? It’s one of the only “college essay” books I can stomach. More importantly, it’s a thoughtful and sometimes funny (depending on the type of humor you enjoy) guide to writing the personal statement. It is also written well and is very easy to read.

 

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2019-2020 Common App Essay Prompts

The Common Application has announced that the 2019-2020 essay prompts will remain the same as the 2018-2019 essay prompts. Based on extensive counselor feedback, the existing essay prompts provide great flexibility for applicants to tell their unique stories in their own voice. Retaining the essay prompts provides the added benefit of consistency for students, counselors, parents, and members during the admissions process.

Plus, with essay prompts remaining the same, students rolling over their existing Common App accounts have more time to plan and prepare their applications prior to the final year of high school.

2019-2020 Common Application Essay Prompts

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.

2. 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?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

6. 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?

7. 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.

During the 2018-2019 application year, the most popular topic of choice was: “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.” (24.1%). The next most popular topics were: “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.” (23.7%), followed by “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?” (21.1%).

“The prompts as they exist today offer a broad range of approaches, accommodating students with a diverse set of experiences and ideas about the world to respond in a thoughtful and illuminating manner,”‘ said Ian Watson, Associate Director of College Counseling at The Rivers School (Weston, MA).

Contact us to learn more about how we help students craft a killer Common App essay!

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Using the Modern Love Podcast to Teach Narrative Writing

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, but applicable all year ’round, here is an idea from Kinana Qaddour for using the popular Times podcast to encourage narrative writing.

Modern Love is a series of weekly reader-submitted essays that explore the joys and tribulations of love. Each week, an actor also reads one of the essays in a podcast. Though the stories are often about romantic love, they also take on love of family, friends, and even pets. This teacher finds their themes universal and the range of essays engaging models to help her students find their own voices.

In my work, I have found that most students have little or no experience writing personal narratives, which they need to write for the personal statement/Common Application essay requirement when applying to college. Naturally, I love this idea—so give it a read and share with a teacher who may find it useful!

New Common App Prompts Announced!

Announcement:

We are pleased to share the 2017-2018 Common Application essay prompts with you. The changes you see below reflect the feedback of 108 Common App member colleges and more than 5,000 other Common App constituents, as well as consultation with our advisory committees and Board of Directors. Students represented the single largest share of constituent survey respondents (59%), followed by school counselors (23%), and teachers (11%).

We were gratified to learn that 91% of members and 90% of constituents agree or strongly agree that the current prompts are effective. In addition, the narrative comments we received helped us see areas for improvement in three of the prompts. Working in close consultation with the counselors and admission officers on our advisory committees, we revised these prompts in a way that we believe will help students see expanded opportunities for expressing themselves. Those revisions appear in italics. You will also notice two new prompts. The first asks students to share examples of their intellectual curiosity. The second is a return to inviting students to submit an essay on a topic of their choice, reframed to help students understand that they are welcome to draw inspiration from multiple sources, not just their own creativity.

The word limit on the essay will remain at 650.

The goal of these revisions is to help all applicants, regardless of background or access to counseling, see themselves and their stories within the prompts. They are designed to invite unencumbered discussions of character and community, identity, and aspiration. To this end, we will be creating new educational resources to help students both understand and approach the opportunities the essay presents for them.

2017-2018 Common Application Essay Prompts

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. [No change]

2. 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? [Revised]

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. [No change]

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]

6. 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? [New]

7. 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. [New]

 

Back From California

I just returned from a two-week trip to California, where I was helping run a Common App and essay writing workshop at Hammer Prep, in San Diego. The workshops (we run two) are always a blast, and students leave with:

  • A completed Common Application.
  • A polished Common Application Essay.
  • An Activities and Awards Resume, which can be used with all applications.
  • A Master Plan for college admission success, which includes a task list and timeline of any remaining items: application deadlines, additional test dates, supplemental essay topics, etc.

Many students will also leave with:

  • Supplemental essays.
  • University of California essays.

If you are located in the San Diego area, I highly suggest checking out Hammer and asking about next years workshops for your rising juniors! I hope to be there again 🙂

 

The Coalition Releases Application Essay Prompts

The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success recently released its application’s 2016-2017 essay prompts. With the inclusion of the “topic of your choice” prompt, it looks like students will not have to write a new personal statement if they decide to submit apps via this prompt in addition to the Common Application—so that’s good news! Additional information from their site, and the prompts, below.

Submission Guidelines

With so many institutions participating in the Coalition, there are many different admissions guidelines, and schools will treat these general application essays differently in their admissions processes: some schools won’t require an essay at all; other schools will require one of the general essays and answers to additional school-specific essays or short answer questions. Please consult the application requirements for each Coalition school in which you are interested.

Suggestions for Use

You are free to work on these essays at any time. (You can even store essay drafts in your Locker!) They are useful for honing your essay writing skills as well as for inclusion with your application. If you plan to submit one of our general essays with your application(s), please use one of the prompts offered during your application year.

Essay Prompts

The prompts for the 2016-17 application year are:

-Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

-Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.

-Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?

-What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?

-Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

Changes to the University of California Essays

Many changes on the horizon for applicants this summer/fall. Here’s another to add to the mix, this time from the UC system, regarding essay topics (more info here)!

So, what happened to the personal statement?

-We’ve replaced the personal statement with the new personal insight questions for the fall 2017 application. We hope this new format will give you clearer guidance and more flexibility in the kind of information you want to share with us.

-The personal insight questions are about getting to know you better — your life experience, interests, ambitions and inspirations.

-Think of it as your interview with the admissions office. Be open. Be reflective. Find your individual voice and express it.

-While this section of the application is just one part we consider when making our admission decision, it helps provide context for the rest of your application.

Check out the new prompts and the guidance provided:

Freshman questions & directions »

Transfer questions & directions »

Writing tips »

TED-Ed is Awesome

 

 

I am probably a bit late to the party, but TED-Ed is one of my new favorite online learning platforms. TED’s “Lessons Worth Sharing” are certainly that and more. TED-Ed lessons are built around TED-Ed Original, TED Talk or YouTube videos, with subjects ranging from the arts and mathematics to business, health, teaching and education, and my favorite thinking and learning. From “The Ethical Dilemma of Self-driving Cars” to “Why Do Some People Go Bald,” there is no lack of content worth checking out on TED-Ed.

There are also series, collections of videos on a particular topic, like “Superhero Science,” “You Are What You Eat,” or my favorite “Everyone Has a Story.” And last but not least, TED-Ed Clubs.

 

 

TED-Ed Clubs supports students in presenting their big ideas in the form of short TED-style talks. Some students may even end up on the TED stage and online. Want to learn how to start a TED-Ed Club (why not, right?)? Download the TED-Ed Club information packet.

I highly recommend checking out TED-Ed in its entirety. A solid resource for students, parents, educators, and life-long learners of all ages.

Princeton Review: Why You Need a College Counselor

According to the Princeton Review, a college counselor should be a strategy consultant, coach, and cheerleader all rolled into one. I couldn’t agree more! Here are a few of their thoughts on why you need a college counselor and how your counselor fits into your overall application timeline.

Lower your college stress

Applications are stressful. 73% of respondents to the 2015 College Hopes & Worries survey gauged their stress levels as “high” or “very high.”  Knowing that there are college experts in your corner can make all the difference. At The Princeton Review, our college counselors are available face-to-face whenever you have a question (or just need some encouragement).

Make a wish list

Talking with a college counselor about your dreams and goals can help you figure out what you really want out of college. Does your best-fit college run a popular co-operative education program? Are you looking for a politically active student body? Conversations with your counselor about what’s important to you in terms of academics, campus culture, and financial aid will help guide your overall college search.

Find and compare colleges

There are hundreds of colleges out there, and the right school for your unique personality and goals may be an Ivy League or it might be a school you haven’t heard of (yet!). College counselors are pros at helping you research schools and then narrowing your list to the colleges you should focus on.

Help you rise to the top

In a competitive applicant pool, a stellar college application is about more than just grades and SAT/ACT scores. Your college counselor will help you position the rest of your application to tell the story of who you are through your essays, extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation. Counselors know which essay topics are overdone, how to make good use of supplementary materials, and how to explain an uncharacteristic bad grade to admissions committees.

Choose the right school for you

Your college counselors will help you craft your list of dream, match, and safety schools and craft the right application strategy for your college wishlist. And when those acceptances roll in, your counselors help you compare programs and financial aid packages so that you make the right decision for you.

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2016-2017 Common Application Essay Prompts

No changes to the CA essay prompts for the upcoming admissions cycle; yay!

Most of my students disregard the prompt when thinking about their essay, but when it comes time to submit end up categorizing it as #1. See all five options below. Time for juniors to start brainstorming!

2016-2017 Essay Prompts
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.
2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

 

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