Testimonial Tuesday: High School Admissions Essay Workshop

Testimonial Tuesday: High School Admissions Essay Workshop

"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 Studies

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Your Last-Minute Admissions Essay Checklist

Your Last-Minute Admissions Essay Checklist

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:

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Your Admissions Essay Winter Break Reading List

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.

December Admission News You Need To Know

December Admission News You Need To Know

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]

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4 Easy Hacks to Answering the "Why This College” Essay

When writing your college supplements, you will almost certainly come across the “Why this college?” essay in many forms. For example, Stanford asks you to “Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford” in 50 words, while Columbia asks “Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why” in 300 words.

Colleges ask this questions for two reasons. First, to find out your demonstrated interest, because the more students that enroll after being accepted, the better the college looks. Second, it’s an easy way to weed out unserious candidates. The biggest mistake you can make is copying and pasting the same essay for each college. If you think it’s as easy as substituting College Name 1 with College Name 2, you’re doing it wrong.

The “Why this college?” supplement is 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, right this way.

1) The Campus Visit

The college tour is the golden standard to reference in these supplements. It shows the most demonstrated interest (link) and also gives you the best reference if this college is the right fit for you. It might even help you narrow your list - sometimes stepping foot on campus right out of the car is all you need to know to feel nope, not for me. When you’re there, be sure to take notes on everything you see and hear and get business cards too just in case. These notes will be crucial in helping you come up with a more unique answer than just something you’d find on the website. (For more tips on nailing the campus visit, click here.)

2) Speak to Former Alums

Getting the perspective of current or former alums is worth more than any brochure. Maybe you’re too embarrassed to ask your real questions at the campus visit or you think the answer wasn’t real enough. An alum not connected to the admissions team has no reason to lie to you. Ask your counselor to connect you with anyone who went there recently. If that doesn’t work, reach out to your network. Facebook and LinkedIn make this super easy. Or search to see if any reps will be coming to a campus fair near you. 

3) Research The School

Find out the majors, extracurriculars, professors, etc that would excite you about the school and reference them by name, so you’re not just spouting off generic stats. Saying you have the greatest professors is not as meaningful as saying you can’t wait to study Russian literature with Professor Stanton, for example.

4) Stalk The College’s Social Media 

This is key. Remember that each campus has a brand and you need to figure out a way that you fit into that brand. The college’s social media presence is a great way to discover how the college speaks about itself, what it prides about itself to boast on Facebook, and most importantly, the insider slang it uses to refer to itself or its students. Cornell students are Cornellians. Columbia is known for its Core.  University of Michigan students are proud Wolverines. You get the idea!

5 Shocking Facts You Don't Know About College Admissions

5 Shocking Facts You Don't Know About College Admissions

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.

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Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to American University, SUNY Binghamton University & more!

Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to American University, SUNY Binghamton University & more!

"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." -Adam

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The One Thing Most Students Forget Before Submitting Their Admissions Essay

The One Thing Most Students Forget Before Submitting Their Admissions Essay

You spent months perfecting your essay, going through multiple revisions and edits. You've cut the cliches and got it down to word count. You've finessed the opening and closing lines to eye-catching perfection. Everyone from your counselor to your mom's cousin twice removed has proofread it and given it their seal of approval. Maybe you've even hired a guru or two to give it the professional once (or twice) over.

Now all you have to do is click submit, right? And then you'll breathe the sweet victory of completion.

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Admission News You Might Have Missed

Admission News You Might Have Missed

Deep breaths...Getting admitted to a top public college is becoming tougher, as applicant pools grow and average acceptance rates fall. BUT that's largely because more students are applying to more schools, thanks to the ease of the Common App. [US News

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What High School Doesn't Teach You About The Admissions Essay

What High School Doesn't Teach You About The Admissions Essay

Most high schools focus on teaching you the academic essay: you know, thesis statement, supporting paragraphs, and a closing paragraph summarizing the above. There is a pretty exact formula you have to stick with and not much room for creativity. Your tone is overly formal and you are expected to cite and analyze texts for a unique argument and conclusion. The good news: You spend 4 years learning this academic skill, which is helpful and will be what you are expected to write in college. 

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Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Williams College

Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Williams College

"Yelena helped illuminate my strengths on my personal statement, breaking my habit of cutting myself short. She used her excellent intuition to select compelling scenes, asking questions that allowed me to elaborate on my defining moments. She also helped cut my repetitions, maximizing the use of space on the very limiting word count.

"I'm extremely grateful for Yelena's help for she is one of the reasons why I'm able to have the opportunity to attend a top liberal arts school on the opposite of side of the country from where I live." -Octavio, Williams College

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Surprising Questions to Ask — and Not to Ask — On Your College Visit

Surprising Questions to Ask — and Not to Ask — On Your College Visit

DON'T ASK QUESTIONS YOU CAN FIND ANSWERS TO ONLINE

If your question can be answered with a quick Google search, you're doing it wrong. I completely understand how overwhelming the college application process is and get that families will schedule a frenetic back-to-back tour schedule, (another no-no, see #2), but this is just a waste of your time. Asking if this college has fraternities or a journalism major is such a forehead smacker. This is your unique opportunity to get answers that could help narrow your stressful college search - why would you waste it on such an easy question?

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The Secret Trick to Channeling Your Creativity

You're staring at your computer screen, the mouse blinking back at you expectantly.

You've already tried writing an email draft to a friend, using your iPhone notes app, and remembering the Write Now Revise Later mantra. You know your deadline is coming up, but you feel totally stuck. Your brain is on vacay. Your inner narrator is off duty. You can't think of anything to write. Welcome to writer's block.

Here's an easy trick: switch up when and where you write.

All of us have our own internal clocks and creativity can come when we least expect it. Some of my best writing has occurred in the twilight hours between 3 and 4 in the morning. You may find yourself suddenly inspired at 6am in bed with your journal or at noon in the park on your iPad.

For now, turn your computer off, go for a walk, get distracted, and then try again at a different time and place.

Let me know if it worked!

UC Berkeley Will Be Taking Your Rec Letters Now

UC Berkeley Will Be Taking Your Rec Letters Now

The University of California is allowing all campuses to use letters of recommendation in admissions decisions for the first time for fall of 2018. BUT no more than 15% of freshman applicants can be asked to submit letters, and then only when schools need additional information to make an admissions decision. Don't get too excited: Letters will likely be used sparingly, since UC officials say 98% of admissions decisions are made using grades, courses, test scores, activities and essay responses on standard applications. [L.A. Times]

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Your Summer Admissions Essay Checklist

Your Summer Admissions Essay Checklist

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.

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How to Overcome The Hardest Essay Roadblocks

How to Overcome The Hardest Essay Roadblocks

1) Ignoring the Supplemental Essay Questions

A common mistake is providing the same generic answer to the supplemental "Why do you want to go to this school?" question. Admissions officers have told me that if you can copy and paste your answer to every school, you're doing it wrong. The answer has to be personalized to each school: mention specific professors or majors unique to the school or something you discovered on your campus tour. Experts in Forbes second that opinion.

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Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Smith College, Clark U & more!

Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Smith College, Clark U & more!

"This year I got into all 8 of my top choice schools—and it is all thanks to Yelena. My essay was a mess when she began working with me. I had no clue what I was going to write about, or how I was going to do it alone. I even received two personal compliments about it from two different admissions counselors at top colleges."

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How Your Acceptance Can Get Revoked (Bye, Harvard)

The age-old debate about social media and how it affects college applications is finally over: yes, your social media presence can harm you. Particularly if you post racist, anti-Semitic and other offensive things in a public platform like Facebook. Especially if you just got into one of the most prestigious and competitive schools in the country.

Harvard College rescinded admissions offers to at least ten prospective members of the Class of 2021 after the students traded sexually explicit memes and messages that sometimes targeted minority groups in a private Facebook group chat.

This year, Harvard's acceptance rate was just 5.2%. That type of exclusivity does not come easy—and it makes sense that Harvard would protect its community from this kind of behavior. This goes back to the kindness factor: admissions officers are looking for good people, most of all.

Also, it doesn't reflect too well on one's street smarts to be so obvious (and oblivious) about your bigotry. Let this be a lesson that there's no such thing as a "private" group online. The fact that this happened as a spin-off of the official Harvard 2021 Facebook group is all the more shocking. Even the description of the official group was a clear warning:

“As a reminder, Harvard College reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under various conditions including if an admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character.”

And this is not your standard teenage dirty joke.

In the group, students sent each other memes and other images mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children, according to screenshots of the chat obtained by The Crimson. Some of the messages joked that abusing children was sexually arousing, while others had punchlines directed at specific ethnic or racial groups. One called the hypothetical hanging of a Mexican child “piñata time.”

The Secret Way Admissions Officers Talk About Race—And What To Do About It

The Secret Way Admissions Officers Talk About Race—And What To Do About It

Thanks to a racial discrimination lawsuit against Princeton, Buzzfeed got its hands on some secret admissions documents—and boy, are they a doozy.

As a result of that lawsuit, civil rights investigators at the Education Department examined allegations of racial bias in the school’s admissions system. Though they came up short and no racial bias was found, the comments below are not exactly innocent.

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