“Since day one, Yelena has been committed to helping me develop powerful essays. From responding to emails or texts promptly, to sending back edits on or before scheduled, she exudes professionalism. Her expertise in writing is also reflected in every single one of her edits, from structure, to line-by-line analysis, to overall impact. What makes Yelena exceptional, however, is her guidance throughout the essay writing process. She doesn't only care about bringing essays to perfection; she also cares about my success as an applicant overall. It gives me great confidence knowing that Yelena has my back in the college application process. Getting into top universities would be her victory as much as it would be mine.”Read More
First, print out your essay and write in the margin next to every paragraph what each paragraph is about in 2-3 words (“tension with heritage,” for example). If you’re having trouble summarizing what each paragraph is about, go back and rewrite it. Once you’re done with this exercise, you’ll be able to see which paragraphs are superfluous and which are worth keeping.Read More
In fact, just because it’s a shorter supplement doesn’t mean you should leave it for last. The “Why this college?” supplement is actually one of the hardest essays to answer. Ideally, you would’ve visited the campus, researched the school, and spoken to former alums to really know the answer. But not everyone has the privilege (or money) to travel to see schools, Luckily, I have some shortcuts for you.Read More
If They’re Undecided, the Admissions Essay Will Make All the Difference
“For the applicant where it’s a little bit harder to distinguish the unique value of what they bring, they need something to put them over the edge - that's where the essay is important. If an admissions officer feels ‘I believe in this person,’ after reading their essay, it can absolutely turn a waitlist into an admit. Each kid gets read for 10-15 minutes - people in the middle will go to committee, and that’s where the essay can make all the difference. When I would read applications, my goal would be to get through 50 a day - the essay is the one place you’re really telling a story about the person. It can also help determine how much scholarship money you get.”Read More
"I have worked hard throughout high school to prepare myself for the application process to get into my dream schools. But when senior year came and the time to start applying to colleges arrived, I didn’t know where to begin with my personal statements. I’ve always heard that you can literally write about anything in your essays and it will be fine. But anything doesn’t always show the best qualities in me.
"That’s where Yelena came and turned things around. Torn between topics, Yelena helped me brainstorm powerful events in my life that helped illuminate my strong characteristics that reveal who I am as a person while also making my statement impactful. She is extremely gifted in noticing significant features about a person just through her writing process. The fact that she actually takes the time to get to know her students before helping us with our work shows her determination to make our essays well written while leaving a great impression on the admission officers. She believes that every person has something amazing to share and she works hard to help us show that. With her help, not only did I come out with an incredible essay but I also learned more about myself and my values. I cannot thank her enough for her tremendous help.
-BA, accepted to Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Williams, UCLA, UC Berkeley & more
One of the most common mistakes I see in my student’s essays is fixating too much on word count. What often happens is students start writing, get to the 650 maximum word count, and just stop abruptly (maybe hastily adding a cheesy summary closing line) — even if the story is still unfinished.
Or I get the opposite approach with an essay that’s much shorter than the word count, which is also a mistake because every word is a chance to stand out and show admissions officers who you are and why they should add you to their campus community.
Here’s what most students don’t realize about the writing process: it takes an average of four revisions to get to the perfect final draft (and some students go through seven!). So that means you might end up writing 2,000 words of rough drafts to get to a perfect final draft of 650 words.
Even professional writers don’t get it right on the first try. And most of the time, half the written work is left on the cutting room floor before publication.
What does that mean for you? Keep writing, no matter how long it gets. And with every draft, keep adding new and better details for every example, keep writing to draw out the storytelling of each anecdote, keep journaling to uncover deeper levels of self-reflection.
Only at the very end (let’s say around draft three or four) do I recommend you start even checking the word count. Then, follow my steps for proofreading to find what to cut.
These are all a great thing to look out for when you're proofreading your essay. I’ve had so many students make the dangling modifier mistake, in addition to the faulty quotation mark punctuation. But you should find comfort that even published authors make the same mistakes! Everyone needs help with their grammar sometimes, especially since it often takes a new pair of eyes to spot typos, because yours have already gotten habituated to your words.Read More
"I got into Columbia!!! Thank you so much for helping me with my essays and bringing them to perfection!! I don't think I’ve ever been proud of any piece of writing as my Common App essay... Being a STEM-related student, I've always had trouble with writing. Yelena knew exactly what to do so that I could freely and clearly speak my mind in my essays. She guided me through creative directions so we could find the write one for me. Her knowledge of how the admissions essays work allowed for us to focus on the important aspects of the essay and leave out the fluff. In addition, Yelena made my essays very interesting with bits of (effective) humor and storytelling that made my essays stand out. Overall, Yelena was able to unleash the creative side of my writing and add life to my otherwise monotonous essays. Thank you again!!!”
-AK, accepted to Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS)Read More
1) Start a Journal
The hardest thing about a personal essay is finding your voice—most high schools focus on the academic essay, which is more stiff and formulaic than the admissions essay. An easy way to discover what you sound like when you're not citing academic sources or analyzing text is to start a journal. Every night before bed, take a few minutes to write about your day or what's worrying you or even try some of the prompts in the Common App. The relaxing background should let you tap into your personal voice without the pressure of sounding academic. At the very least, you'll have some snippets saved away for the draft writing stage.
TOPIC 1: Redefining The Idea of Masculinity While Growing Up With Two Moms
SUCCESS RATE: Accepted to all 10 schools he applied to, including Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Yale University, Princeton University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
WHY IT WORKED: Colleges want to see exceptional students who overcome adversity because it shows strength and students are not afraid to challenge societal norms, because that takes risk. This essay manages to convey both at once.
"I sought out Yelena's help just one week before my application was due. Although I considered myself a proficient writer, I was having difficulty tailoring my writing to express my personal identity and my interest for Cornell University. Yelena worked with me over the phone and inspired me to consider the bigger picture and to incorporate a more creative narrative for my essay. She also kept me motivated and focused, providing a timeline of due dates. In just a couple of days, my essays went from bland mediocrity to a vivacious and impactful assortment of words. Yelena helped me eliminate extraneous phrases and wording that didn’t aid the overall momentum and suggested the practice of nighttime journaling to spur creativity and insight. She also helped me incorporate shorthand (like "Cornellian" and "A&S") to give my supplement an additional level of authenticity. Although my stats were competitive for Cornell University, I’m convinced that Yelena's input and editing are the main reason I was admitted."-JT, accepted to Cornell UniversityRead More
TIME TO SCRUB YOUR INSTA...."The majority of US admissions officers and prospective students think that it is “fair game” for universities to visit applicants’ social media profiles when deciding who to admit to their institution, according to two recent studies. A survey of 388 US admissions officers found that 68 per cent thought that they could visit sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to help them decide who to offer a university place to, despite the fact that less than a third (29 per cent) said that they actually engaged in the practice, a decline from 35 per cent since last year." [Times Higher Education]Read More
"As an admissions officer, I analyzed students' personalities. If I read an admissions essay, and the student came off as arrogant, entitled, mean, selfish, or, on the flip side, funny, charming, generous, witty, I wrote that exact trait in my notes. It's not enough just to be smart at top schools. Students must also show that they'll be good classmates and community builders."—Angela Dunnham, Former Assistant Director of Admissions, Dartmouth College [Business Insider]Read More
- Admissions officers spend 12 minutes reading your entire application. Make them count. [Business Insider]
- How to prepare for the dreaded admissions interview. #1 tip: Don't forget to prepare thoughtful questions to ask them whose answers can't be found on the internet. [US News]
- 20 insider do's & don'ts for getting into your dream college, from University of Rochester admissions officers themselves. Parents, no scrapbooking (!) or overbearing phone calls. Students, no rudeness or worn-out jeans in interviews. [Rochester.edu]
- Student groups are protesting legacy admissions, which give a boost in accepting relatives of alumni—a practice that happens to about 75% of U.S. News & World Report’s top 100 universities. [The Atlantic]
"Yelena was so engaging and insightful! She visited my students during the Fall at the High School for Environmental Studies, as they were preparing for the college admissions process. The process can be so daunting for kids, and she really helped to ease their concerns about what to include and what not to include in their personal statements. My seniors were so grateful to have her come in! She provided them with so much useful, valuable advice as to how to individualize their college essays. She answered all of their questions as clearly as she could, as they vigorously jotted down notes and ideas while Yelena spoke. I am happy to say that many of those very same students, especially those who went for early acceptance, have been accepted to so many great colleges and universities. Thanks so much Yelena for all of your help! And we look to having our students work with you again next year!" —Erika Brooks, Social Studies Teacher, The High School for Environmental StudiesRead More
Overusing adverbs (basically, essentially, actually) means that your verbs are not strong enough on their own. Wordy phrases and fragments slow down your narrative. Pedantic words like “myriad” and “plethora” should only be used if you know what they mean - otherwise you come across as someone disingenuous who used athesaurus to sound smarter (something admissions officers can easily see through.)
Inspired by Karyn, here are a few more things I would add to your admissions essay checklist for before you submit:Read More
Calling all juniors (and precocious sophomores)! Now that you’re done with class and homework and finals and extracurriculars, this weeklong break is your perfect opportunity to prep for your admissions essay. The personal statement is incredibly difficult to master, especially since most schools don’t emphasize creative writing in their curriculums. The best way for you to learn a brand new way of writing is to read the best examples of that writing. Consider the below your personal essay master class.
1) Bossypants by Tina Fey
If memoirs aren’t really your thing, try a humor memoir. This New York Times bestseller by the former Saturday Night Live head writer is one of my all time faves! Other hilarious humor essayists to check out are Nora Ephron, David Sedaris, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Jess Klein, and more. If your friends would describe you as funny, you should try a draft that takes a humorous approach. Even one self-deprecating line can do a lot in making you seem more approachable and likable, which is personal essay gold.
2) The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
After discovering your inner humorist, you should take a look at the classic memoir genre. One of the most important aspects of a personal essay is the self-reflection and that’s what a memoir is all about. If you’re not sure what you like, go to your local bookstore and check out the memoir section and browse until you find something interesting. The New York Times bestseller list is a great place to discover those too.
3) Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott
This is both a beautiful memoir and a great intro to writing that professional writers swear by. This book is a go-to for when you’re stuck with writer’s block. It is one of the most quotable and memorable books for a reason!
4) On Writing The College Application Essay by Harry Bauld
My English teacher introduced this gem to me in high school and it was a game changer. Written by a former admissions officer and English teacher, this book is what gave me the writing mantra I still swear by today. Full of great example essays, the book also breaks down the all the elements of a standout essay. I swear by this! If you do one thing, get this book.
LSATs no longer required for top law schools! Harvard, Georgetown, Columbia, Northwestern and more law schools will now accept the GRE as an alternative admissions test in order to boost diversity in their applicants. [Fortune]
How to explain (and not just excuse) your lower GPA. [US News]
Some admissions consultants can cost you a pretty penny— or $28K of them. [SF Gate]
Parents, step away from your kid's admissions essay and no one will get hurt. [Washington Post]Read More
A recent New York Times feature has been making the rounds. I read it so you don’t have to. Here's what you need to know:
1) Most Schools Accept Over 50% Of Applicants
As everyone is collectively freaking out about getting into top tier schools, it’s important to remember that only 13 percent of four-year colleges accept fewer than half of their applicants.
2) Some Colleges Do Factor Your Ability to Pay Into Their Decisions
According to the Times write-up, about half of institutions said an applicant’s “ability to pay” was of at least “some importance” in admissions decisions, according to a recent report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
"I'm attending Binghamton University right now, planning on majoring in Biochemistry. I can't thank you enough for your help, I think my essay really stood out because I had plenty of great options to choose from despite my lacking high school GPA and the competitive pool I was put against. I learned a ton from working with you." -AdamRead More