College Essays

College Essay Essentials

Q: How do I begin to write my essay?

A: If you’re reading this, you’ve already begun. In this guide you’ll find some ideas on how to brainstorm and structure your essay.

Q: How long should my essay be?

A: It depends. Your main Common App essay can be up to 650 words, while the essays for the University of California (UC) schools are around 350 words each, and your supplemental essays will vary.

Q: How many essays will I need to write?

A: Around 15 is average. You’ll likely write a main personal statement for your Common App, perhaps some separate essays if you’re applying to public schools (the UCs require four, for example), plus you’ll write supplements for most selective schools, which number anywhere from 6-20, depending on the number of schools you apply to.

Q: What should my essay be about?

A: In a word, you.

Q: What are college admissions officers looking for?

They’re looking for the answers to these three questions:

  1. Who is this person?
  2. Will this person contribute something of value to our campus?
  3. Can this person write?

Q: How do college admissions officers evaluate my essay?

A: Each school has its own criteria and different readers will prefer different elements. Michael Gulotta (Associate Director of Admissions at American University) for example, has told me he most looks to the essay to assess a student’s writing ability. But Rick Diaz (Regional Director of Undergrad Admissions at SMU) is less interested in writing ability and more interested in a student’s story.

Q: So which is more important: your story or your writing skill?

A: Both are important. A good story, well told. That’s your goal.

Q: When should I start writing my essay?

A: Today. Right now.

Q: How do I structure my essay?

A: You’ll learn about two options on this site: Narrative Structure and Montage Structure.

Q: How much do essays matter?

A: It depends on the college, but generally between 10%-30%. Essays tend to matter more for small schools, or schools who look at applications holistically.

Q: If my grades are bad, can I get into Harvard with a great essay?

A: Nope. Schools look at your GPA, course rigor and test scores more than anything. When you’re being compared to other students with similar GPA/SAT scores, that’s when the essays can make or break your chances. Harvard is great, but there are a lot of other awesome schools too. For a list of Colleges That Change Lives, Google “Colleges That Change Lives.” (Really.)

Q: Can a bad college essay negatively affect my application?

A: Yes.

COLLEGE ESSAY MASTERPOST

For many students, the beginning of senior year marks the start of the “official” college season. Hopeful applicants are jumping right into the thick of transcripts, extracurricular lists, and essays as deadlines draw near. One of the most anxiety-inducing parts of applying for college is crafting the perfect personal statement!

To aid all of you fledgling essay writers, I’ve compiled a list of helpful sources with tips, tricks, advice, do’s and don’ts, and more below!!! (This will be added to often!)

Good luck babies I believe in you!!

    Let’s get started!

    Videos

    Ivy League (and other super competitives)

    UC Essays

    Common Application

     Essay Examples

What I Wish I’d Known Senior Year

Hi guys! Long time no see. I’ve officially graduated high school and thought I’d make a post for all you incoming seniors about some things I’d wish I’d known senior year/some tips and tricks to help make your senior year less stressful because we all need a little less stress in our lives ha. So without further ado,

  • Make your college list over the summer: The summer before senior year is the time to finalize your college list. Do this by making a list of places you’re interested in and narrow it down based on fit. Try to visit if possible but if you can’t, most schools have virtual tours that you can take online. Make sure to have your list done before September. College apps are expensive and the fees for sending test scores to your respective schools add to the cost. Include at least one safety and two match schools on your list.
    • Get a calendar and mark all the deadlines for college apps, scholarships, testing, when test scores have to be sent in, etc. It will keep you organized and on track.
  • Start your essays over the summer (or at least brainstorm some ideas): You don’t necessarily have to start your college essays over the summer - I didn’t - but at least make a list of ideas, look over the prompts if they’ve been released, and familiarize yourself with common essay structures and how to write a good college essay. You should have a pretty good idea by September of what you want to include in your essays. Start them early so that you’ll get enough time to show them to your English teacher, parents, or anybody whose input you value.
    • While there are some topics for college essays that are too cliché and aren’t worth writing about (you can find a list here), in general, don’t be afraid of writing about something that you think will be cliché. If you give a topic an original spin and people can hear your voice and tell that it was a unique experience, you’re fine.
    • DON’T PLAGARIZE OR HAVE A PARENT/TEACHER/FRIEND/OTHER PERSON WRITE YOUR ESSAYS. No matter how tempted you are, just don’t. It will cause you more troubles that is worth and can get you in serious trouble (plus the moral repercussions of it). Be you and write your own essays.
  • Ask for your teacher recs early. This means to ask teachers by late September at the latest. Teachers need time to write your recs and chances are, you’re not the only one asking said teacher for a rec. Getting your request in early will make sure that you’ll get a letter of rec and that the teacher will have enough time to write a good letter of rec.
    • Ask for letters of rec from teachers you know will write something good about you. Go for teachers you’ve known for more than a year and/or teachers who know you better.
    • After they’ve written your letter of rec, it is customary to give your teachers a gift. A gift card, food, or a personalized gift/memento are in order.
  • Your counselor is your best friend. Seriously. Be prepared to spend significant time in the counselor’s office or emailing your counselor. You’ll likely have a lot of questions about the whole college apps process and that’s ok. Your counselor has done it before and is there to help you. Plus, most colleges require a counselor letter of rec so you’ll need to get to know your counselor and your counselor will have to get to know you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help because it will significantly reduce your stress.
    • It is also encouraged to get your counselor a gift if you feel they’ve helped you a lot. It’s a nice gesture that shows you care.
  • Send your test scores in at least 3 weeks before the college’s application deadline. This is super important because some colleges refuse to look at your application if your test scores aren’t in on time *cough* UMich *cough*. Plan ahead. This is why it’s good to have your college apps done early so that you’re not scrambling to send colleges your test scores two days before the deadline. If you’re taking a test in October, make sure to put all the colleges you’re applying to on the list of where you want your scores to be sent to so that the colleges will get the score in time. I had friends who sent their scores in too late and had their application bumped from early action to regular decision at a somewhat selective school where when you applied made all the difference. Seriously, send your scores in early and be done with it.
    • Most colleges won’t look at an unofficial score report so send the official one at all times. Don’t send paper score reports. We’re not in the 1920s.
    • If you’ve done all this but your scores will still be late, contact your college’s admissions office and let them know which brings me to my next point.
  • If you can’t find something on the college’s website or can’t find an answer to a question you have, contact the admissions office! The admissions office can give you the best answers to your questions and can help alleviate any concerns you have. Just make sure not to badger the admissions office because some colleges keep track of how many times you contact them and it can work in your disadvantage.
    • Don’t have your parents call in because it makes you look bad. You’re old enough to call someone and ask them a few questions.
  • Start looking for scholarships early. Preferably in the fall. Most of the big and prestigious scholarships have early deadlines and you don’t want to miss them. Finding the scholarships you want to apply to early gives you enough time to write the essays and get the other materials needed. 
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. There’s no point and it causes unnecessary stress. Be confident in yourself and your application and don’t worry about where others have applied/gotten in to or about what others have put on their applications. 

These are just a few points that I thought were worth mentioning. Good luck! Senior year will be over before you know it so enjoy it :)

College Admissions

Hi friends! I just finished 17 college applications and I’m fresh with advice for you all so here it is: 

STANDARDIZED TESTING: 

  • get this shit done ASAP; I started taking practice tests my freshman year and by the end of my sophomore year I had the score I wanted 
  • it literally does not matter if you take the ACT or SAT, colleges don’t fucking care just pick one and do well on it 
  • if you can, take 2 SAT subject tests; many colleges require them and so do special BA/MD programs so its best to have them prepared 
  • “how do you get a good score??”: PRACTICE TESTS! literally take as many as you can and make sure you correct the mistakes you make on each of them so you’re actually learning 

COMMON APPLICATION:

  • opens august 1; you do not have to submit anything then
  • you only get 10 slots for extracurricular activities so choose wisely; also you don’t necessarily need to fill all 10 slots; quality over quantity always 
  • you can submit the common app to a school before you submit the writing supplement! get that shit submitted so you don’t have to worry about it later on 
  • don’t type your essays on the common app; type them on a google doc and then transfer them later on so you can avoid it from crashing and not saving your work 

COLLEGE LIST:

  • don’t fucking apply to all 8 Ivies 
  • make sure you have safeties (easy to get into/affordable), matches (most likely will get in) along with your reaches (no fucking clue if you’ll get in)
  • be realistic about how many applications you can fill out 
  • try to finalize by 1st semester senior year 

COLLEGE ESSAYS: 

  • genuinely spend time on these 
  • don’t reuse your why X college essays 
  • when answering the why X college prompt: DO YOUR RESEARCH! specifics are key; they want students that will actually matriculate 
  • you can usually reuse your why X major essay so be sure to write a really good one 
  • don’t be someone you’re not; just be natural and let your personality shine 
  • they aren’t as bad as they seem I swear you just have to really work with 
  • if you’re really having trouble with a prompt, google it and there’s bound to be admissions blogs that have written tips about answering it 

GENERAL TIMELINE OF COLLEGE SHENANIGANS 

freshman year: 

  • don’t worry about harvard 
  • literally just enjoy your only peaceful year of high school 
  • join a few clubs 
  • get good grades 
  • you’re set

sophomore year: 

  • start looking at schools and figure out what you want in a college 
  • begin building your list 
  • start taking APs (if your school allows you) 
  • look for leadership opportunities 
  • look for summer programs and other things to keep you busy in the summer 
  • get ready for the hellstorm that is junior year

junior year:

  • get testing done by the end of this year 
  • figure out who you’re asking for letters of rec 
  • take AP classes 
  • maintain your GPA 
  • become a leader in your clubs 

senior year: 

  • lay on the floor and cry 
  • like really let it out bc this year is hell 
  • take a rigorous course load and get good grades 
  • finish last minute testing if you still haven’t 
  • register for common app 
  • get letters of rec 
  • send scores to colleges 
  • start writing college essays 
  • apply to scholarships 
  • fill out FAFSA and CSS 

good luck my lovelies xx my inbox is always open as always 

-Ramya

From College Essay Guy: Four Qualities of an Amazing College Essay

This week, College Essay Guy explains what four qualities a college essay must have in order to be truly amazing. Without further ado, here’s his explanation.

You’ll recall from the Ira Glass on Storytelling YouTube videos that what makes a story great is a great narrative followed by a great insight.

Here are some of the qualities of an amazing essay:

  1. The story is unusual in either content, structure or both.

  2. A “wow” moment.

  3. The ending is both surprising and inevitable.

  4. The ending makes the reader do a little bit of work.

I find it’s best to illustrate by example, so here are the premises for two amazing essays:

Premise of the “Dead Bird” essay: a girl is doing her homework one day when her cat claws a bird (almost) to death and as the narrator tries desperately to save the bird’s life she makes a life-changing realization about a friend of hers who was killed.

Premise of the  “I Shot My Brother” essay: a boy has a chance to save his brother’s life, but in order to do so he’ll have to shoot him.

Are you interested? Good.

Note that I haven’t given away the ending yet. I want you to read both of them first so you can experience them as pieces of writing before we analyze what makes each one amazing.

Once you’ve read each of them, read on for why I think each is amazing.

The Dead Bird essay: Why I think it’s amazing

1. a. Unusual content (the “what”): who gets the chance to save a dead bird? Who makes a connection to a friend while the bird is dying? Not many people.

b. Unusual structure (the “how”): The non-chronological opening: she starts with an arresting image then does a flashback to fill us in on the context.

c. Unusual style (the “how”): The clipped style of the writing. Like a series of snapshots, or a film with very quick takes.

2. The “wow” moment:

The moment when she realizes that her struggle to let the bird go parallels her struggle to let her friend go. It’s not explicit, so you have to look for it. But it’s there.

3. The ending is both surprising and inevitable

Why surprising? We didn’t expect her to make peace with the bird’s death, or her friend’s.

Why inevitable? Now that I think about it, of course she’d have to accept the bird’s death, and her friend’s.

4. The ending makes the reader do a little bit of work.

Look at that ending again—what does it mean?  

The wind, the sky, the dampness of the soil on my hands whispered to me, “The bird is dead. Kari has passed. But you are alive.” My breath, my heartbeat, my sweat sighed back, “I am alive. I am alive. I am alive.”

It’s not explicit. I would call this a “poetic” ending, and I’ll define “poetic” in this way: it leaves something unaccounted for. To get the meaning you have to think about it a bit, and different people may have different interpretations. Note that it’s easy to do this poorly and hard to do this well. In terms of what the ending to this essay means, I won’t ruin it by trying to explain it. I’ll let you decide for yourself. (And that’s not a tease, by the way, that’s a gift.)

The I Shot My Brother essay: Why I think it’s amazing

1. a. Unusual content: what kind of person shoots his brother? And what kind of person shoots his brother to save his brother’s life? Not many people.

b. Unusual structure: non-chronological order of events (starts with the end). Cinematic time-jumps.

c. Unusual style: great dialogue. Realistic characters. Memorable visual details. One of the best openings I have ever read.

2. The “wow” moment: the moment he has to shoot his brother in order to save his life.

Double wow: he’s also been looking to get back at his brother, so shooting him is both an “I love you” and “I hate you” moment.

Triple wow: the moment of violence ends up being the catalyst for ultimately bringing them together…

3. The ending is both surprising and inevitable

Surprising: no way will these two reconcile.

Inevitable: of course they’ll reconcile.

Also surprising: even if I suspected they would reconcile, I didn’t expect it would happen in this way.

4. The ending makes the reader do a little bit of work.

Again, look at that ending–what does it mean?            

Smiling, I open Jon’s Jansport backpack and neatly place this essay inside and a chocolate taffy with a note attached.

Twenty minutes have passed when the door abruptly opens.

“Guess what the doctor just said?” my brother cries, unable to hide his exhilaration. I look up and I smile too.

Again, I won’t spell it out. Just think about where his relationship with his brother started and think about where it is now.

Also–and I just noticed this–both of these essays end with some kind of redemption. I’m not saying that’s required for an amazing essay, but I think it’s part of makes my heart swell every time I read these two.  

Keep in mind that these are not the only qualities of an amazing essay or even required to makeyour essay amazing, these are simply qualities that I have observed in essays that I find amazing.

What do you think makes an essay amazing?

HOW TO WRITE THE ‘WHY US’ COLLEGE ESSAY

So I recently got a request to do an in-depth post on how to write the ‘why us’ college essay. I know I struggled a bit with this type of essay and hopefully this post will help you guys out.

1) DO NOT USE THE SAME ESSAY FOR ALL YOUR SCHOOLS

Just don’t do it. I think it’s one of the worst things you can do to show interest. Chances are, if you’re reusing the same essay for all your schools, you haven’t done your research and aren’t committed. This essay could be the factor that switches you from the reject or waitlist pile to the accepted pile. Think about it, if you had too similar candidates, both were strong in all aspects but one of them showed a lot of interest in the school in the ‘why us’ essay, who would you pick? Colleges can even pick the ‘weaker’ candidate who shows more interest because they want people who are committed to their school and are willing to matriculate. Show them that you’re committed and write different essays for each school.

2) DO YOUR RESEARCH

This means more than looking on U.S. News to check the college’s ranking and other mundane facts that are easily accessible. You want to demonstrate genuine interest in the college and not be superficial. Make a document and just bullet out all of the research for each school. Here are some things that should be included in your research:

  • Campus Visits: This is one of the other uses college visits have besides assessing fit. Did you visit the campus over the summer and fall in love with it? Indicate it in your essay. If the rural or urban setting plays a big role in campus life, then definitely mention how that came to play in your decision. For example, a school like Columbia or UChicago, both of which are deeply intertwined with their respective cities or a school like Dartmouth which is also very dependent on its location. Talk about that one gelato shop on campus that you fell in love with or the nature trails you visited etc.
  • Professors: Another indicator of interest. Ideally, you should have met with a professor on your campus visit. But this discussion should have been more than just a ‘hello’ and shaking of hands. Don’t name drop professors if you’ve never interacted with them and know nothing about what they really do. Only include talking to professors if you’ve discussed their subject matter or something else meaningful with them. If you haven’t had the chance to meet professors, fear not! This is what google’s for. Look at the listings of professors for your prospective major. Take a few minutes of your time to browse their websites and see what classes they teach, what books/articles they’ve written, what ideas they’ve pioneered. In my Why UChicago essay, I quoted a French professor who compared people to chess pieces (my interests are French and chess). It doesn’t have to be something monumental, it just has to show that you’ve taken the time to explore the school and prospective major you’ve chosen.
  • Alumni: If you know anyone who attended the school you’re applying to and they’ve helped you choose the school or learn more about it. You could mention them in your essay. Talk about what characteristics you see in them that make them successful at X College and how you exemplify those traits. Did you have an interview with this college before you submitted your application? Mention some of the stuff your interviewer talked about. Again, this shows that you’ve taken the time to explore and are dedicated to the school. 
  • Majors: Look at the website for the department of your intended major and see what they offer that makes them unique. Look at the history of the school you’re applying to with respect to your intended major. What makes this school unique? For example, the University of Michigan was one of the first schools to have computers on campus and they have a long history of a strong computer science program. The computer language BASIC was invented on Dartmouth’s campus. Little facts like this show that you’re interested. Don’t just list the facts because then they become trivial and they lose their meaning in the context of your essay. Tie the facts in to your desire to become a computer science major since you were ten when you built a computer from scratch with your dad. Since then you’ve learned numerous programming languages and have attended numerous computer science camps and it would really help your education to study at a university that’s been a pioneer in this domain for decades. If you don’t know your major, look at what departments you’re interested in and pick the one you like most and relate that to your life.
  • Programs/Extracurriculars: Does your school have a unique program that would help further your academic or extracurricular pursuits? Mention it in context to your life. For example, UChicago’s unique Careers in Law and Careers in Medicine programs which help undergrads attend lectures and seminars, get grad school application help, and get good internships in their desired fields of law or medicine. Did you attend a Model UN conference on the college’s campus and realize that you wanted to be a part of this college’s award winning Model UN team? Mention it. Did you attend a summer program or summer school at this college where you were exposed to the campus, professors, current students, alumni etc. and fell in love? Mention it. Does this college offer a unique study abroad opportunity that you just have to go on? Mention it. These are just some examples of the stuff you can mention on this essay. Look beyond academics and see what this college offers that others don’t.
  • Those Pamphlets You Have Under Your Bed: Now’s the time to dig up all that college mail and college emails from this college that you’ve received over the years and reread it. Look for the obvious stuff like programs and academics but also on how the college describes itself. Is the college very academically oriented or is it athletically driven. What profile does your college fit and how do you fit in? Look up the college’s motto, mascot, fight song etc. and relate them to your life. College mail is usually a good indicator of how the college views itself and use this in your essay.
  • Miscellaneous: Does this college have any unique traditions that you’d like to be a part of? For example the UChicago scavenger hunt. It doesn’t have to be that big but it could be small, like the $1 smoothie Wednesdays and the free tea and cookies every day at a certain time (I forget when) in one of Dartmouth’s libraries. A simple google search can give you this information. There are also unofficial sayings that go around that could be used in your essay, such as “Where fun goes to die” to describe UChicago. Look up the unique tidbits that don’t make it on the website or pamphlet.

3) PRESENTATION

Now that you’ve done all the brunt work, it’s time to organize it all into a concise but interesting essay. The key here is to be interesting and not just list the facts; relate it to you. Weave in one of your interests of hobbies with the ‘Why Us’ part and show how those two pieces complement each other. This is where I would recommend you check out some of the Why UChicago essays people have posted on college confidential. This is the only time I would ever tell you to use that website because it’s toxic but the UChicago people are some of the most unique and creative people I’ve seen and their essays are brilliant. Look at how they weave their interests with the why us narrative to get a good essay. **** This is probably obvious to almost everyone but I’m going to say it, don’t copy their ideas. Use them as inspiration but don’t do anything remotely similar. Plagiarism has serious consequences including a rescinding of your acceptance **** They make it into a story and this is what you should strive to do. If you can do it successfully, it will set you apart from the pack and increase your odds of acceptance. In my ‘Why UChicago’ essay, I related the notation of a really good move in chess with attending UChicago. It made my essay unique and related my personality and interests with the school (I got accepted if you’re wondering). The key is to outline the research you’ve done in a way that makes it easy for the readers to see how you’d fit in with the college. As I’ve said before, don’t let them make assumptions because they’ll assume wrong and it will hurt your application. Help them help you.

4) REVISE

Once you’ve written a draft of the essay you’re happy with, revise, revise, revise. The four draft rule I mentioned in my other college essay post is still valid. Shoot for four drafts to make sure your essay is solid. Things to look for while revising can be found here in my other college essay post. There’s also the informal word limit I mentioned: shoot for less than 650 words because the college admissions people are reading hundreds of essays a day and they will most likely not read your essay in its entirety if you go over 650 words. Being concise is key. As always, don’t name drop and list facts, INTEGRATE them and explain them. Colleges know what’s on their website but how is it relevant to you? The college application process is about you.

Well, I hope this helped you guys write a strong ‘Why Us’ college essay. Hit up my ask if you have any questions and good luck!

Advice on Writing the Common App Essay this Summer...

Fall of senior year is a busy time. So we strongly urge you to have at least your Common Application essay in good shape before senior year begins because writing the essays while attending school is like adding a class to your schedule – remember, in addition to the Common App’s, there are those in the supplements. Summer provides the luxury of uninterrupted time to reflect and write. And you’re fortunate that the Common App essay prompts will remain the same, so you don’t have to wait until August 1st to start working on them.

So here’s some advice to kick start your essays over the coming summer months – from a suggested reading list that we hope will inspire to some excellent step-by-step guidance on those Common App essay prompts.

Finding Your Voice in the Essay:  A suggested reading list of first-person essays.

The Real Topic of your Essay is You: One strategy to help you find a topic.

What are colleges looking for in the essay?

Great essay advice from the deans at Vanderbilt, Chicago, University of Illinois and more.

Pushing the Right Brick for Diagon Alley  Writer and independent college consultant Irena Smith on getting started – and getting personal – in the college essay.

Advice for Students on Topics for the New Common App Essays  This has been one of our all-time most popular posts with college advisor Alice Kleeman breaking down each of the Common App prompts, with guidance on academic, extracurricular, and personal topics that might fit neatly into a response for each prompt. And there’s a bonus section on the essays that have been Ms. Kleeman’s favorites in her more than twenty years advising students.

For more information about essays, including a step-by-step guide to developing a topic, see Chapter 13, “Essays,” “ in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.

How to Start Your College Essay

As your Rising Senior summer comes around the bend, the anxiety of applying to college is starting to rise.

Don’t worry. You’ve got this. If you’re even thinking about college applications now you’re already ahead of the pack.

But the college essay looms large. I’m not going to lie and say it will come easy. You’re going to write draft after draft after draft. And you might even write a few completely different first drafts to see which one works.

The trick with starting your essay isn’t to start off by writing. It’s to start off by listing.

Write three lists. These lists are going to be your reference points through this whole process, so keep them close and keep adding to them.

List 1: What words do I use to describe myself?

List 2: What are five things that won’t come across about you (interests, hobbies, quirks, stories, experiences, etc) through your resume and transcript?

List 3: What do I add to any group or community?

Now write a few notes with a story that backs up each of these claims. You don’t have to write an essay yet, but having these ideas and knowing these things about yourself will come in hand when you actually sit down to write.

Essays are rarely about big important events, a lot of good essays live in little details. Specificity is key.

The "Why Us?" College essay

If you’re a current high school senior, chances are you’re working on college applications.  Which means you’re most likely writing essays, and a lot of them.  If you have any that are something like, “Why have you chosen to apply to Dickinson?” or “What made you decide to apply to Catholic University?” you really have to ensure a unique essay.  How do you do that?

Well, I’m going to link a really helpful article that has 3 parts.  READ THEM.  It is a well written article that’s not only helpful, but relatable and funny.  Do not write “I want to go to Stanford because I have always envisioned myself in the sunny rolling hills of California.” Do you know how many other colleges are in California? A lot.  Be specific, show that you truly know the school you’re writing about and why you’re putting in the time to write the supplemental essay. Don’t forget that you can write about yourself too, even though they’re asking about themselves.  This is a perfect time to share more about yourself that isn’t in your Common App or main essay. 

Read this

If you have any questions, my inbox is always open!

10 Opening Lines from Stanford Admission Essays
I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.
When I was in the eighth grade I couldn’t read.
While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled upon a hidden pocket of the universe?
I have old hands.
I was paralyzed from the waist down. I would try to move my leg or even shift an ankle but I never got a response. This was the first time thoughts of death ever cross my mind.
I almost didn’t live through September 11th, 2001.
The spaghetti burbled and slushed around the pan, and as I stirred it, the noises it gave off began to sound increasingly like bodily functions.
I have been surfing Lake Michigan since I was 3 years old.
I stand on the riverbank surveying this rippled range like some riparian cowboy -instead of chaps, I wear vinyl, thigh-high waders and a lasso of measuring tape and twine is slung over my arm.
I had never seen anyone get so excited about mitochondria.
— 

10 Great Opening Lines from Stanford Admissions Essays, CBS News

Chalky

100 Brave and Interesting Questions

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  1. What’s the toughest decision you made today?

  2. What’s the toughest decision you made this year?

  3. What’s the toughest decision you ever made?

  4. What have you forgotten?

  5. What do you want to be when you grow up?

  6. What’s it like being you right now?

  7. What makes you nostalgic?

  8. If you had two hours left on earth what would you do?

  9. What’s the most beautiful word in the world?

  10. Who makes you laugh more than anyone?

  11. What did your father teach you?

  12. What did your mother teach you?

  13. What’s the best gift you’ve ever given?

  14. Best gift you ever received?

  15. How many times a day do you look in the mirror?

  16. What do you bring most to a friendship?

  17. If 100 people in your age group were selected randomly, how many do you think they’d find leading a happier life than you?

  18. What is or was your best subject in school?

  19. What activity do you do that makes you feel most like yourself?

  20. What makes you feel supported?

  21. Whom do you secretly admire?

  22. What time of the day do you feel the most energetic and what do you usually do in those moments?

  23. What’s something you never leave home without?

  24. What’s a recurring dream you have?

  25. What makes you feel safe?

  26. What’s the best thing that ever happened to you?

  27. What do you want people to say about you once you’re gone?

  28. What’s the coolest thing about science?

  29. What’s the best money you ever spent?

  30. What’s a bad habit you have?

  31. What are you grateful for?

  32. Whom are you envious of?

  33. What’s an image you’ll never forget?

  34. Describe a near-death experience.

  35. If you had a clone, what would you have the clone do?

  36. What’s your idea of Heaven?

  37. What’s your idea Hell?

  38. When did you know?

  39. What can you do better?

  40. When are you most yourself?

  41. What superpower would you most like to have?

  42. If you were granted three wishes, what would you do with the second wish?

  43. What is your actual superpower?

  44. If you won 100 million dollars, what would you buy first?

  45. What’s the best sound in the world?

  46. What’s perfect about your life?

  47. What song do you sing only when you’re alone and what memory does it bring back?

  48. Describe a moment you were so embarrassed you wanted to disappear.

  49. How many times a day do you think about money?

  50. Who has been the biggest influence on you in your relationship to money?

  51. What’s one thing you’re certain of?

  52. Describe one of your colossal failures.

  53. What makes you cringe?

  54. What does your inner voice tell you?

  55. What crime have you considered committing?

  56. What’s great about your mom?

  57. What’s great about your dad?

  58. Which day would you gladly re-live?

  59. What are you awesome at?

  60. What do you want people you meet for the first time to think about you?

  61. When were you most afraid?

  62. What are you terrible at but love to do anyway?

  63. What weapon would you carry during the Zombie Apocalypse?

  64. Which of your five senses would you keep if you could only keep one?

  65. What’s something you love to make?

  66. What do you cook better than anyone?

  67. What do you wish you’d invented?

  68. What would you like to invent?

  69. Out of 100 random people, where would you rank yourself in terms of your intelligence?

  70. Where do you want to be right now?

  71. If you could be someone else for a day who would it be and why?

  72. What makes you feel powerful?

  73. What’s the meanest thing you’ve ever said?

  74. What’s the meanest thing someone has ever said to you?

  75. What three words would you have on your grave stone?

  76. What’s your first thought when you wake up?

  77. What’s one thing you wake up to in the middle of the night worrying about?

  78. If you could tell someone something anonymously, what would it be?

  79. Whom would you like to forgive and forget?

  80. If you could get rid of one of your responsibilities today, what would it be?

  81. What type of person angers you the most?

  82. What is your greatest strength?

  83. What is your worst weakness?

  84. How do you show your love for others?

Extra Brave and Interesting Questions (once trust has been established):

  1. Why are you here in this room right now?

  2. When is a time you forgave someone or were forgiven for something?

  3. What’s the biggest mistake you ever made?

  4. What are you hiding?

  5. What’s your unanswerable question–the question you seem to always be asking yourself?

  6. What are you ashamed of?

  7. What is stopping you?

  8. What’s a secret you have?

  9. How do you secretly manipulate people to get your way?

  10. When was the last time you apologized?

  11. What is the biggest lie you tell yourself?

  12. What’s the moment you left childhood behind?

  13. What’s missing from your life?

  14. Do you believe in a higher power?

  15. What are you ready to let go of?

  16. What are you not saying right now?


Click here for more college essay inspiration.

What high school seniors look like spring semester...

The extreme cases of senioritis: 

The jerk who got into his reach school early decision:

The kid who transformed from teacher’s pet to class clown once the rec letters went out:

The girl who missed the application deadline:

The guy who doesn’t want to leave high school:

The chick who got rejected from her safety school:

The few who haven’t heard of senioritis:

From College Essay Guy: How NOT to Write the "Why Us?" Statement

This week, College Essay Guy begins a three-part series on writing the “Why Us?” statement. Doing a poor job on these statements can give the admissions officers the sense that you’re not especially interested in attending their school (you just want to go to any school), so be sure to write them properly! Here is College Essay Guy’s post.

Part 1: How NOT to Write Your Essay

Many colleges include the “Why us?” college application statements. Essentially, they’re asking, “What makes you want to come to our school?” After reading many bad ones and a few good ones, I’ve put together this list of DOs and DON’Ts.

Let’s start with the DON'Ts:

DON’T: Write about the school’s size, location, reputation or the weather.

Why? Because that’s what half of America is writing about. Take a hint from Emory University, whose “Why us” essay used to read:

“Many students decide to apply to Emory University based on our size, location, reputation, and yes, the weather. Besides these valid reasons as a possible college choice, why is Emory University a particularly good match for you?”

Why do you think they say don’t write about those things? Because they’re tired of reading about those things.

In fact, here’s what to do after you’ve written your first draft: Go back through your essay and underline anything that sounds like it could have appeared in another student’s essay. Then delete it.

In your “Why us” essay you’re making a case, and the case is this: “You [the school] and I [the student] are a perfect match.” But…

DON’T: Simply use emotional language to make your case.

“I really really want to go to Northwestern because I just have this feeling that it’s the place for me” does not a good case make. It doesn’t show how you are a.) qualified or b.) a good match for the school. And for that matter, neither does the statement, “I can see myself rooting for the Wildcats at MetLife Stadium on Sundays.”

Which reminds me:

DON’T: Screw up the mascot, stadium, team colors or names of any important people or places on campus.

Why? It’s the quickest way to show you’re a crappy researcher. In the example above, the Wildcats play neither at MetLife Stadium nor on Sundays. (And, based on their home record these days, neither do the Giants. But I digress.)

Also, know that the “I can see myself in purple and white / maroon and gold / [any color] and [any other color]” is a cliche of the “Why us” essay, but some students can’t resist. Fine. If you’re going to use it, though, at least get the team names and colors right. I’ve heard more than one admissions officer say that a screw-up like this can immediately disqualify an application. I’m not saying it definitely will, or that this is true for all admissions officers–some probably don’t care–but don’t give them a reason to put you in the “no” pile. Do your research. (And the USC colors are not red and yellow, incidentally, but “USC Cardinal” and “USC Gold.”)

DON’T: Think of this as a “Why Them” essay.

In other words, don’t tout the school’s bus system. "I know we have a good bus system, I take it every day!“ says Erica Sanders, Director of Recruitment at University of Michigan. And don’t parrot the brochures or website language—it could be that your reader actually wrote the words you’re copying and pasting.

Again, look at Emory’s (new) "Why Us” prompt, which reads:

“Undergraduates at Emory and Oxford Colleges are offered countless opportunities to engage with the student body, the faculty, and your academic program of choice–from hands-on research opportunities to student organizations to volunteering. What are some of the programs and/or activities you would plan to get involved with on either campus, and what unique qualities will you bring to them?" (Emphasis mine.)

Tip: Even if the school doesn’t ask for that last part, include it.

“So what should I put in my essay?” you ask, “And how do I know where to research?” I’m glad you asked.

I’ll share that with you next week. #Cliffhanger

College Application Resources

Hello everyone!

I wanted to make a post of helpful college websites, tools, etc that I use, to share with everyone else. 

Don’t know if your ACT or SAT scores are better? Check out this link that shows you a chart comparing ACT and SAT scores

Want to read honest reviews of a college and not just Student Profiles on colleges’ websites? Check out this website that has ratings in several different categories from current or past students. Make sure to check each one, a C in drug safety may mean there aren’t drugs and people don’t like that, or it could mean there are drugs and the people reviewing are unhappy about it.  Just read it all. 

Aren’t exactly sure how you stack up to be admitted? Check out this website (it’s the same one, I know) that allows you to create a simple profile and then ask what your chances are.  Please remember, this is not 100% accurate nor is it done by admissions counselor.  It just gives you a ball park. 

Have an interview coming up? Be prepared by reading this article that details how to prepare for an interview.  Just don’t forget, be yourself, be respectful, and be enthusiastic!

Can’t decide which application is best for you? This can be a tricky topic, so to get the full scoop, check out this helpful guide that breaks down the pro’s and con’s for each type of admissions plan. 

Need help with the “Why” Essay? Check out my detailed post on it. 

If you have any questions, my inbox is always open and I would love to talk to people!  

It’s that time of year again where seniors frantically apply to their dream schools while dealing with extra-curriculars, jobs, outside scholarships, overbearing parents, and the huge cloud of anxiety hanging over their heads. As a current senior this is, to say the least, overwhelming, and I wish I knew more about the college process before the end of my junior year, so I thought I’d put a list of tips I’ve discovered over the course of a few months:

1. Your college list


  • Make a list of colleges you’re considering or heard of, whether it’s 5 or 50, and begin looking at whether they have Early Action (apply early where you don’t have to attend once accepted), Early Decision (apply early and you have to attend once accepted), and Regular Decision (normal and most used application type where you are notified in March-April about your acceptance/rejection).

  • After you have established these categories within the colleges, research the colleges that have early action decisions. Pay attention to their location, size, student population, extracurriculars, MAJORS, and anything else you value as important(for me it was my intended major(s) and scholarship opportunities). If you’re not sure about what factors you’re considering then start with the in state/regional colleges first that have early action applications and then go out of state/out of region.

  • Eliminate any college that has a minimum amount of your desired factors and if you’re undecided eliminate the ones that will give you the least amount of financial aid(you can check their school scholarships and even do a estimated cost calculator) and offer the least amount of majors. Applying to schools with an abundance of majors will at least give you options if you end up attending said college.

  • Go through the Early Decision  colleges and do the exact same thing!

  • If you have any colleges left then go through those as well.

  • Depending upon how many colleges you had listed to begin with, look up at least 3 colleges a week (if you have a list of 40+ colleges then try to do more on the weekends or your school breaks). This is an easy way to go through your colleges. I’ve advised this to some friends who had no idea where to start and it’s helped them :)

  • Look at the class profiles (average ACT/SAT scores, average GPA’s) of each college you have still on your list. Label each college in one of the three categories: safety, match, and reach.


  1. Safety: Usually have a 56%+ acceptance rate but everyone’s safety, matches, and reaches are different based on their high school performance. Your GPA and standardized test scores are way above the average. Safeties can also be determined by the amount of extracurriculars(EC’s) you have, community service hours, awards, sports, and etc. I mentioned the latter factors because not everyone has high grades and/or test scores :) These colleges would also offer you good financial aid. If you’re unsure about it being a safety, look at students you know that have been accepted and compare. You can also tell by the academic rigor. For example: Harvard is not a safety for ANYBODY but Arizona State or Penn State might be. Most in-state schools fall into this category.

  2. Match: 35-55% acceptance rate. Your test scores and GPA are a little above average or right below it. These are usually regional schools, but not necessarily.

  3. Reach: Less than a 35% acceptance rate. These would be your top tier schools like the Ivies, Vanderbilt, UChicago, etc. These colleges are known for their academic rigor and most of the students were in the top 5%-10% of their class in high school. Your test scores and GPA are well below their average(not for all students though). These are colleges that are iffy about their acceptances which means a student with 30 EC’s, is valedictorian, has taken 10 AP classes, has over 200 volunteer hours and more intimidating factors may still not get in. To fully stand out among the application pool, you should heavily invest time into your writing supplements.
  • After you finish labeling the college list, see how many you can visit (if you’re a senior try to make September and early October your college visit months since most early action/early decision deadlines are in late October to November; I don’t really recommend summer visits since most students are off campus and you won’t get the full feel, but it’s better than nothing). Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors can visit whenever they want :)
  • Eventually you’re going to keep eliminating colleges as you visit or research them throughout the weeks, months, or years. Also, visit any nearby information session colleges have, this includes college fairs and a group college info session. Sign up for the colleges mailing list to get more info as well!
  • For music students, the best music program isn’t always the best for you! Keep that in mind. Also, you should have your audition pieces finished by October/Early November of the year you’re applying to college. Live auditions are best but if you cannot do it, then most colleges will allow you to submit a video. PAY ATTENTION TO THEIR AUDITION REQUIREMENTS!


2. Class rigor

  • Do not take an AP class because you think it will look good on college apps, same with dual credit and IB! Take them because you’re interested in the subject or because you want the college credit(if you know what major you have in mind that is). Never take it just for the purpose of college apps!
  • Please study. If you think you don’t need to study then you’re wrong unless you’re one of those supernatural students who make 95’s and above without studying EVERY TIME!!
  • Communicate with your guidance counselor. If you have a crappy counselor then the only way to make it better is to keep in touch throughout the year. I have walked into my guidance counselor’s office at least 5-10 times a year to ask for programs like Girl’s State or ask about my class schedule, career path, and state scholarships.

3. BE ACTIVE!

  • I wish someone would’ve stressed the importance of EC’s and volunteer hours to me in the 9th grade. All of the match and reach colleges want this! Get involved in the school orchestra, choir, arts club, Spanish Honor Society, Environmental club, Mock Trial, volunteer at the soup kitchen ANYTHING (as long as you’re interested of course). Getting involved will also give you new friends and open up new opportunities for you. It also helps you discover what you like and don’t like.


4. Take the PSAT/ACT/SAT ASAP.

  • If you wait too late, you may not have time to improve your scores. Also, practicing helps A LOT. At least a month before your testing date print practice tests to complete or buy the official book. Start by doing the sections individually (with time constraints) and then on the 3rd practice test, complete them in one sitting with the time constraints. Have a parent/guardian or sibling/friend grade it. Let them tell you the exact question number(s) you missed and go back and fix it.  Figure out what you did wrong!

  • I have ACT practice tests in my google drive, if you want them, give me your email for the link!


5. Outside scholarships

  • These scholarships are not linked directly to a school, meaning in order to get the money you don’t have to attend *insert college name*.
  • Unigo.com (this website is my personal favorite because it is endless).
  • All of the three websites above will show endless scholarships! Apply to as many as you can. No amount is too small!
  • Some big ones include Ron Brown (for black students), Coca-Cola Scholars, and Horatio Alger.


Originally posted by locksforyou

Alright guys, after going through this process and currently being in college as a freshman I have more advice(I’ll be updating this throughout the week so please stay tuned).

1. Start on your essays early. I believe the common app goes live August 1st. Please add any college on your list that you firmly believe you will apply to and write down ideas for their supplements. I kept a separate file for this on my laptop. 

2. Have a huge calendar in your room so you can know deadlines for college apps/scholarships.

3. I will be editing essays from now until August 21st for my early birds who have already completed some. 

4. This will probably be one of the most stressful periods throughout your high school life so please do not take on more than you can handle.

5. Please pay attention to any scholarships colleges offer that requires a separate essay/application. Check out any departmental scholarships!