Monthly Archives: July 2013

How to write college essays: Help from Essay Hell and 7 other treasures.

Chromatic typewriter by Tyree Callahan.

Chromatic typewriter by Tyree Callahan.

So. We’re way past the summer midpoint. The calendar, reminders, counselors, and parents are all saying, “write your essays!” What’s the high school senior to do?

At the risk of providing another route to procrastination, here’s help:

1.  Check out Essay Hell. As an example, read How Will They Dub You? Your essay can make you memorable, or you can be one more kid who tore her ACL playing soccer. (Hat tip: College Solution)

One student wrote about how he loved tying knots, but got stuck in a tree when one of his knots tightened on him. “How about that kid who got stuck in the tree?”

2.  Read Alan Gelb’s book, Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps. Here’s why.

3.  After spending years writing essays according to the five paragraph standard–thesis, three paragraphs of support, conclusion–many students find it tough to switch to writing about themselves. Ask yourself some of these questions, via College Admission’s The Real Topic of Your Essay is You:

  • What would I say about myself if I had to omit any mention of my extracurricular activities?
  • If I, like Tom Sawyer, had a chance to eavesdrop at my own funeral, what would people say about me?

4.  I’m sure you’ve already taken a look at the new Common App prompts, right?

5.  And you’ve looked at the supplementary essay questions from colleges on your short list? Here are this year’s prompts from UVa (our local public university). Find others via each college’s admissions site.

6.  See tips from Allen Grove for the new Common App questions.

Note the key word here: evaluate. You aren’t just describing something; the best essays will explore the complexity of the issue.

7. Or, read Irena Smith’s post for College Admission, Writing the Essay: Pushing the Right Brick for Diagon Alley, for help on how to “Stand out by being you.”

Do some data gathering: see if your friends can finish the sentence “I have this friend who…” I guarantee you they will not say things like “has strong leadership skills.” They may, however, come up with stuff like “talks nonstop,” “drives like a maniac,” “tells the most annoying jokes during cross country practice,” “is freakishly good at Words with Friends,” or “eats like a defensive lineman.” Those are all fantastic jumping off points. Use them.

8.  Step back into Essay Hell for How to Find Your Defining Qualities. “I know it always helps to have a list to get you started.”

Able, Accepting, Accurate, Achieving, Adaptable, Adorable, Adventurous, Affectionate, Alert, Alive, Altruistic, Amazing, Ambitious, Analytical, Appreciative, Appealing, Artistic, Assertive, Astonishing, Attentive, Attractive, Authentic, Aware, Awesome, Balanced, Beautiful, Blissful, Blooming, Bold, Bountiful, Brave, Breath-Taking, Bright, Calm, Capable, Careful, Carefree, Caring, Cautious, Centered, Certain, Charitable, Charming, Cheeky, Cheerful, Chirpy, Civic-Minded, Clean, Colorful, Competetive, Clear-Thinking, Communicative, Compassionate, Compatible, Competitive, Complete, Confident, Conscientious, Considerate, Conservative, Consistent, Content, Co-operative, Courageous, Conscientious, Courteous, Creative, Cuddly, Curious, Cultural, Cute…

Yes. It goes on from there.

9.  Here’s an important point from Collegewise in, Is this experience your best story?” Topics discussed in your college essays should always share new information that a college can’t learn from the application alone.”

10.  College advisor Alice Kleeman offers specific help in Advice for Students on Topics for the New Common App Essays, writing for College Admission, with academic, extracurricular, and personal questions related to each prompt.

Are you resisting the pressure in your community to do it all—and do it all perfectly—and instead are seeking balance in your life?

Were you ever told by a coach or activity director that you would not be successful in a particular activity, yet you chose to pursue it?

Has your ethnic background led you to participate deeply and fully in the dance, spiritual, or culinary traditions of your culture?

Enough of this already. Go write.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Getting In

No more “Topic of Choice” in Common App essay prompts

Mod Squad Mia, glad she doesn't have to write essays.

Mod Squad Mia, glad she doesn’t have to write essays.

The Common App Board updated their essay questions for the 2013 application season and–in the most significant change–removed the wild card, “topic of your choice.”

Your choice must be one of the following:

  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community or family?

The other significant change for this year’s applicants: essays must be within 250 to 650 words. No less, no more. For any newbies, previous prompts suggested a length of 500 words, but since the process involved uploading Word documents, the application accepted any length. Application readers may have been perturbed by over-long essays, but that’s another matter.

The announcement from the Common App folks suggests that this year, rather than uploading a document, an applicant will paste the essay text into a word-count-restricting interface.

When writing about deadlines recently, I corresponded with a number of independent college counselors. Almost all of them strongly recommended that seniors complete their essays before school starts.

That gives Mod Squad Julie and her classmates about four more weeks.

Last I checked, Julie had drafts in-progress for most of the supplementary essays, but not for the main Common App prompt. She wasn’t wild about any of the options, so she checked to see which one M.S. Pete chose a couple of years ago… Of course:  topic of your choice.

Essay-writing resources up next. Which prompt would you choose?

Enhanced by Zemanta

5 Comments

Filed under Getting In

Three big reasons to visit colleges during Private College Week

The Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia offers three very compelling reasons to visit participating colleges next week:  three application fee waivers.

English:

“Washington College at Lexington,” by Henry Howe. NYPL Digital Collection.

July 29th – August 2nd has been named Virginia Private College Week by the Council, and they offer a pretty sweet deal: Visit any three of the twenty-four participating colleges during the week and you will receive three application fee waivers for any three Virginia private colleges of your choice.

What’s in it for you:  Potential savings of $150 or so + more information from colleges that interest you. Nothing beats a college visit for getting a feel for the school.

What’s in it for them:  Colleges really want you to visit their campuses. You will hear their best pitch. You might accept their story on how and why their school is the best for you. You might decide that private colleges compare favorably to public universities. You might fall in love with their school. You might apply and, by boosting application numbers, help drive selectivity ratings, which help increase US News & World Report ratings.*

Here’s the list of participating colleges and universities:

  • Averett University
  • Bluefield College
  • Bridgewater College
  • Eastern Mennonite University
  • Emory & Henry College
  • Ferrum College
  • Hampden-Sydney College
  • Hampton University
  • Hollins University
  • Jefferson College of Health Sciences
  • Liberty University
  • Lynchburg College
  • Mary Baldwin College
  • Marymount University
  • Randolph College
  • Randolph-Macon College
  • Roanoke College
  • Shenandoah University
  • Sweet Briar College
  • University of Richmond
  • Virginia Intermont College
  • Virginia Union University
  • Virginia Wesleyan College
  • Washington and Lee University

Learn more at Virginia Private College Week. They provide profiles of each of the member colleges and specific information about scheduled information sessions.

This is simply a public service announcement. Do any other states offer something like this?

I wish we could take advantage of it, but Mod Squad Julie is finishing up an internship and the rest of us are trying to get our work (and play and summer reading assignments) done to head out of town for a family reunion. And maybe write a post about college essays if there’s time…

Enhanced by Zemanta*Last point added, thanks to reminder from Lisa Perry.

1 Comment

Filed under Campus Visits

What Happens When? The College Admissions Calendar, expanded.

I published a College Admissions Calendar in early May and asked for suggestions of any missed items. Here’s the calendar, updated with suggestions [credited below]. I’ve added a couple of notes at the end for recommended parent-student discussions. Those are always fun.

For college admissions May 1st marks the New Year — the end of one college admissions year and the beginning of the next. This is a great time to look at what happens throughout the year for anyone on a path toward college.

College teeMay

  • May 1 is the deadline for students to accept an offer from, and pay a deposit to, the college of their choice. Most, but not all colleges, that is. Here’s why (and no, it’s not for the benefit of the students): Random thoughts on May 1.
  • First two full weeks of May:  AP exams. All HS students taking AP courses take the exams at the same time.
  • First three weeks of May:  IB exams. All HS students taking IB courses take the exams at the same time. More information via the International Baccalaureate website, here.
  • SAT & SAT Subject tests (aka SAT IIs) offered. Typically SATs are offered every month except April, July, August, and September. SAT Subject tests are offered every time SATs are offered except March, but not all subjects are offered each time. Specific details on APs, SATS, and SAT Subject tests can be found at the College Board’s website, Big Future.
  • Parents and college counselors urge HS juniors to request recommendation letters from teachers before school lets out. (Note: typically teachers write the letters in the fall and upload them to the Common App interface after the student has specified his or her colleges. However, many teachers appreciate the advance notice and the opportunity to prep for the letters during the summer.)
  • Also, before school lets out, rising seniors should find out how to get a transcript sent from the school during the summer. Some colleges will offer targeted students incentives, such as recommendation waivers, application fee waivers or even small scholarship offers, if they get the completed application to the college in early September.

June

  • ACT tests are offered in June, September, October, December, February, and April. Specific details can be found at the ACT website.
  • Orientation for new college students begins, this usually includes help with registration. Parents are usually invited and are offered their own orientation track.
  • Parents of HS students may want to visit campuses while on summer road-trips.

July

  • The summer before senior year brings opening day for coach/athlete communications. This NCAA pdf provides a calendar for 2012-13.  Athletic recruitment adds an algorithmic level of complexity.
  • AP scores are sent to exam-takers; exams are scored on a scale of 1 [low] to 5; 3 is considered a passing score. The more selective the college, the higher score required for credit. Some colleges do not provide credit, but may use the scores for placement. See college websites for each college’s AP credit policy. Here’s what UVa accepts in the College of Arts & Sciences.
  • Parents and college counselors urge rising seniors to start drafting essays. Some students do. Read: How to Write a College Essay (in 10 Steps).
  • Another summer task for rising seniors:  investigate scholarship opportunities since many have fall or early winter deadlines. From a HS counselor, “This should start even in middle school. … It is NEVER too early to start searching for scholarships.”

August

  • The Common App goes live for the new application season. Some students actually apply in August. (Nobody I know.) Bookmark this site:  Common Questions for the Common App.
  • For new college students:  first tuition payment is required!

September

  • Many HS guidance counselors provide detailed information to seniors, including how much time is required for transcript requests, recommendation letters, etc.
  • Many HS guidance counselors will also provide guidelines on scholarship applications.
  • Freshmen, sophomores and juniors may want to start thinking about community service opportunities, if they haven’t already. Many honor societies and scholarships require service time.
  • Seniors should consider college visits. Many colleges have autumn visit days and may offer overnight stays.

October

  • Earliest Early Admission and Early Decision deadlines occur. (Note: the 2012-13 Common App listed October 30 as the earliest application deadline. However, many college counselors will advise students to submit at least two weeks prior to the published deadline.)
  • Many high schools offer PSAT/NMSQTs to sophomores (mostly for practice) and juniors (for National Merit Scholarship qualification).
  • The October SAT date is typically the latest that will get scores reported to colleges for Early deadlines.
  • Parents need to check financial aid requirements for early applications. Some will require an application in the fall. The CSS Financial Aid Profile, via College Board and required by most private universities, goes live October 1 for the following school year.

November

  • Early application reading season for admissions, extends into January.
  • Early applicants should prepare for the possibility of college interviews, either with admission officers or local alumni.
  • Parents and college counselors may urge seniors to finish essays over Thanksgiving break. Some students do.

December

  • The December SAT date is typically the latest that will get scores reported for regular deadlines.
  • Early decisions start to be received in December. Some HS students face rejection for the first time. (Deal with it and move on.)
  • Important:  many college decisions will be provided via the college’s SIS, requiring the student to log-in. Keep a file of the log-in IDs used for different colleges.
  • Important:  now is when HS seniors need to check email regularly. See Calling All Texters: Read Your Email!
  • December 31 is the deadline for the majority of regular admission applications.

January

  • The new FAFSA goes live January 1st. Some families actually submit that day. (Nobody I know.) Read: Catch-22: How and When to Complete the FAFSA and Your Tax Returns.
  • Regular application reading season for admissions officers, extends through March.
  • Regular season applicants should prepare for the possibility of college interviews, either with admission officers or local alumni.
  • Sophomores and juniors receive PSAT scores. Approximately three hours later they start to receive emails and marketing mailers from colleges.
  • HS course registration may begin for the next school year.
  • Summer enrichment opportunities often require applications by January or February. See a very long list our local school division provides here.

February

  • Many colleges require the FAFSA submission by the end of February. Parents need to prepare preliminary, or draft, tax returns in order to submit the FAFSA. Bookmark this site: FAFSA FAQs.

March

  • Regular admission decisions should be received by the end of March.
  • Once parents file finished tax returns, they must update the FAFSA and/or link it to the return via the FAFSA/IRS interface.

April

  • HS juniors may want to spend their spring break visiting campuses. Setting up appointments with professors can help them learn more about each school. Read: Sending emails to strangers. At colleges. Asking for appointments.
  • HS seniors may want to attend admitted day programs for specific questions, to help aid their final decisions. Read: Who should attend an admitted student event?
  • Many communities hold college fairs, bringing a large number of campus reps to one location.
  • Financial aid letters, in all their confusing glory, may be received through the month of April.
  • HS juniors who have qualified for National Merit recognition are notified.
  • Last two weeks of April:  many HS students put life on hold to prep for AP exams in early May. Except for Prom, spring sports, part-time jobs, and, like, hanging out with friends.
  • Last two weeks of April:  many HS senior families square up to the college decision.

Important discussions for families about the college list: 

  1. Finances. Each family will make their own decisions on this. My recommendation: have a frank and open discussion early on–at least by spring of junior year–about how finances may impact college decisions, so the student and the parents are on the same track. Families with substantial resources for college may still balk at paying a quarter of a million dollars for an undergraduate degree. Other families may be adamant about limiting student debt. Still, others may happily pay full freight (and the colleges would like to know who you are!). Does your child know what you are willing to pay? Have both parents discussed this yet? Opinions may vary widely, especially if the parents had very different experiences paying for their own college costs.
  2. Career Services. How good is each college at providing career services and providing them early on? As Patricia Krahnke, President of Global College Search suggested, “One thing that might be interesting to add is analyzing and comparing degree program curricula and career services/academic advising for each college choice. … We find that this is an area families avoid, often because they haven’t a clue about how to do it. But it can go a very long way towards making the application process, essay writing, and interview prep process less confusing and the college choices more confident and realistic.”

Additions made with thanks to Patricia L. Krahnke, Bob Gilvey, Whitney Castillo, Christel Milak-Parker, Anne Lepesant, J B Jones, Shayne Swift, and Chuck Self.

What did I miss? Write in comments below. Thanks!

Enhanced by Zemanta

5 Comments

Filed under Getting In, High School