Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tips for Successful Supplement Essays: The Why Us? Question

Carleton College
College application deadlines are coming...and they'll be here before you know it. If you're applying to private colleges and universities, by now you've probably finished the main Common Application essay and are facing (or trying not to face) the dreaded college supplements. Specifically that oh-so-difficult question so many colleges want the answer to: Why us?

Even if a school is your hands-down favorite, addressing this question can be daunting. It can be downright intimidating if the school is one you like but have never visited, or have just heard about through friends or relatives. So how should you respond when the colleges ask why?

First of all, understand why they are asking. It's not to hear about how awesome they are (because they know that already), but because they want to find out why you believe you and their college are a good match. They want to know what you're going to bring and what you expect them to give. To do this effectively, you need to research the college...and yourself.

If you've been able to go on a campus visit, great: you have a lot of material to draw from as you pull together your ideas. Even if you haven't, you can glean a wealth of information about a college on their website. Check out all kinds of things--the academic departments, special programs, campus life, sports, clubs, student publications, campus happenings, current research--and make notes about the things that genuinely excite you or that seem like things you need or want to have a successful, satisfying college experience. If you can come up with even three things that really speak to you, you've got enough to write your essay.

Next, think about who you are. Given what you've learned about the school in your research, can you really see yourself happily spending four years there? What do you think will get you jazzed or challenge you? What about you "fits" with the school and its culture? How can you see yourself being a part of its community?

When you start writing, be authentic. This is your chance to share what you know about their school in the context of who you are. Let your personality come through. It's perfectly fine to mention quirky things that appeal to you, as long as you are genuine in your discussion.

What should you avoid? Don't write about how beautiful the campus is. They know that. Don't write about how they offer an exceptional education. They know that, too. Don't write about their fabulous reputation. You get the idea. Your job isn't to kiss up to the schools by mirroring their wonderfulness back to them. It's to show them that the two of you are right for each other.

The why? questions are challenging, but they're also a great opportunity for you to really think deeply about why you are applying to the schools on your list. In the process, you may find that some go up on your list of preferences, and that others go down (or even drop off). The whys are a lot of work, but they're one more way (and an underrated one) to ensure you're making a great choice...and at the end of the college admissions process, that's really what it's all about.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

2014 Top 12 Strengths & Experiences Colleges Look for in High School Students

The Independent Educational Consultants Association, IECA, today released the results of its annual survey of college admissions officers and professionals aimed at helping make the admissions process more transparent for students and families. The list is in keeping with the advice I give my clients: Work hard in rigorous classes (but don't fall prey to the "8 AP courses" insanity); pursue a few activities passionately and pursue leadership opportunities in those activities; be curious about life and learning; form connections with teachers who can speak to your strengths, challenges and intellectual curiosity in recommendation letters; write an honest, intriguing, kick-ass essay that no one else could ever have written; and don't be afraid to let colleges know how much you'd like to be part of their community.

In this morning's Webinar for IECA members to learn the details of the survey, some interesting new points were also made. For example:

Legacy is less important in admissions than it has ever been before. Even if your parents, your uncles, your aunts and 15 cousins all attended University of X, it won't get you in unless the colleges feels you are are good match for them and they are a good match for you.

Social media and electronic communication are viable ways to demonstrate your interest in a college. You might not be able to visit a campus or meet with an admissions rep in your area, but everyone can like their top colleges on Facebook and take the time to open the emails they send you. The downside of social media and college admissions has been highlighted in recent years, but apparently there is also an upside: They may be watching when you post unsavory photos of a keg party on your page, but they're also watching when you give them a "thumbs up".

Colleges are more interested than ever in your intellectual curiosity. Take every opportunity to show them the genuine interests and ideas that turn you on. Show them what inspires you by committing to related activities in depth and over time, by addressing interests in your essays, and by asking teacher and counselor recommenders to make this topic an element of their letters (assuming you have real, live intellectual curiosity for them to talk about).

See what else colleges and admissions professionals from around the world had to say:

2014 Top 12 Strengths & Experiences Colleges Look for In High School Students

Saturday, February 16, 2013

SAT or ACT? Which Test is Best?

Like it or not, standardized test scores remain a factor in the admissions decisions of many colleges. Unless you are applying to "test optional" schools, you'll need to sit for either the ACT or the SAT as part of the admissions process.

The question is, Which test is best for you to take? Colleges are clear that they have no preference as to whether applicants submit the SAT or ACT (or sometimes scores from both), so how does a student decide? Will one land you a higher score than the other?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

New Common Application Essay Prompts

There's been a good deal of speculation, controversy and confusion about the Common Application's decision to change their essay topics and word limits. For several years now, the  six prompts, including an open-ended "topic of your choice" option, and unlimited word count have remained the same.

The waiting ended yesterday when the Common Application released its new essay prompts as well as the news that essays written for the 2013-14 admissions season and beyond will now be subject to a 650 word maximum, after which the essay will be cut off. The essay may be no shorter than 250 characters.