"Just a little over a month before my 20+ college applications were due, I had made little progress on my personal statement and decided to contact Yelena. Her understanding and flexibility subdued my anxieties but also allowed me to stay on track towards completing my essay in time for submission. In that short of a time frame, I grew from being relatively insecure about my essay to being extremely proud of it. Yelena gave the narrative I had placed on paper an unrivaled sense of vitality and power. She narrowed in on the formative experiences that made me more than a score or a GPA. Yelena not only transformed my paper, while still preserving my voice and message, but gave me an unparalleled confidence going into the final steps of the admissions process. She made my dreams of going to an elite school tangible. I cannot emphasize enough how helpful and encouraging Yelena has been throughout the process, and I wholeheartedly recommend her services to others wishing to give themselves an edge in writing." -Laura, accepted to the University of VanderbiltRead More
This memoir is a beautiful account of surviving an extreme Mormon survivalist sect so against the “government” that she grew up without a birth certificate. Westover details being forced to do dangerous hard labor as a kid and being abused by an older brother whose mental health issues are ignored and denied. The story is ultimately inspiring: She went on to graduate from Cambridge with a history PhD.
Good for: Writing about a complicated family upbringing
Get inspired by: Great examples of deep self-reflection and answering the “why.” Westover has had years to process what happened to her (hopefully with therapy), so she is able to describe her past in a way that is deep but not accusatory. When writing about abuse, the tone is really important in showing how you overcame the adversity, and Westover’s descriptions are a good example of showing hurt without sounding bitter, which is a hard balance to strike when writing about something so personal.
2) Start exploring your passions
Freshman year is all about figuring out what you love to do. Ideally, you'd spend the next four years honing that passion, developing your talents, and growing into a leadership position that you can write about for a supplemental college essay. Use your freshman year to explore all of your interests so that by junior year, you're signing up for less clubs and really building your leadership in those. Don't wait until later in high school to figure out what you love: admissions officers want to see commitment and leadership in a few clubs, not just a list of extracurriculars you're somewhat involved in.Read More
If you'd like to me to lead an admissions essay workshop at your school, please get in touch! I’m an official registered vendor with the Department of Education in NYC and work with both private and public schools in addition to community centers. Not in New York? I can Skype in and now offer online workshops. (Yay for technology!)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.
Your Real Personality
According to Wolfe, a lot of students think they need to have a life-changing event to write about in their essays, but counselors are just trying to see the personality of a student in a way that can’t be conveyed through test scores and transcripts. One essay Wolfe remembers was about a family reunion. “They weren’t just regurgitating what we already knew,” Wolfe said. “But instead we could see how this student, living on a freshman hall, would fit in.” [Williamsburg Yorktown Daily]Read More
The waitlist letter is your last chance to show “demonstrated interest” and maybe get on the admit list if enough students don’t accept. In fact, some colleges are notorious for accepting fewer students than they need and then filling up their freshman class with the waitlist (this way, they get higher on the US News & World rankings…sneaky, I know). So you may have a better shot than you think. At the very least, you’ll know you’ve done everything you could.
1) Find Your Specific Admissions RepresentativeRead More
”Yelena was so insightful and an absolute delight to work with–– not only did she help with the mechanics of my essay, she took the type to get to know me personally in order to add a special touch. I credit her with bringing my writing to life in addition to reading well on paper! Thank you for your editing magic - I'm oh so grateful for you, Ms. Shuster! " -M.M., Accepted to Princeton, Duke, UNC & USCRead More
I try to help every student who reaches out to me, but I’m a one-woman business and have to limit who I work with to make sure everyone gets the most personalized attention. But all that changes next month because...
I’m introducing two affordable live classes this summer! Best part? I will cater to your schedules, so please let me know your timing preferences in the Google Form below.Read More
Use Old-School Pen & Paper
I recommend the old-school writing technique of journaling: pen and paper, when you are relaxed (like before going to bed). At this point, you need to write more than you think and this is a great way of silencing your inner critic. Journaling also has proven therapeutic benefits, so it will help you write your way through whatever you’re going through.Read More
”Through countless e-mails, Yelena helped me take the abstract ideas that were in my head and put them on a sheet of paper. And Yelena helped me through the complex challenge of putting my lived experience into a format that other people could understand. Yelena also helped me by bringing me a new perspective for my essays. As someone writing an essay about myself, there were a lot of details that I assumed that a person who was reading the essay would know. However, Yelena helped me include more details in the essays to make the writing tighter. Within the timeframe of several weeks, my essay went from a somewhat forgettable story to a memorable and impactful snapshot into my life as a person and a student. Without Yelena's help and support throughout the process, I am sure that I would have never been accepted to Harvard University." -Sam, Accepted to HarvardRead More
Admissions Officers Spend 8 Minutes On Your Application
An ever-increasing number of applications have swamped admissions offices in recent years, resulting in faster reading of files. Whereas once readers could spend 16 to 20 minutes on a given applicant, the average is now around eight minutes. [The Atlantic]Read More
The Hollywood cheating scandal has caused widespread outrage—and for good reason. I wrote about the issues inherent in the college-industrial complex for Business Insider, from my perspective as both an admissions essay guru and as a senior who went through the application process myself.
Though my essay is more op-ed than personal statement, I thought it would still be helpful to share the writing techniques I used to help you with your personal essay:
1) Set A Time Limit For Your First DraftRead More
“The time I spent under Yelena's guidance has not only given me an acceptance to every school to which I applied, but also has prepared me so that I can succeed at any of the schools. Yelena's genuine support and care for my improvement has led me to complete each week's assignment while working full time in the military and going to school at night. It was an eye-opening experience to see such an efficient way to write an essay that shows who I really am. Now, I can't wait to use the writing skills at Columbia and future medical schools.”
-H.P., accepted to Columbia University & NYURead More
1) Don’t Sound Negative
Even though you’re leaving your current school for negative reasons, you have to be strategic in how you explain them so you don’t sound like you’re complaining. It’s a difficult balance to strike, for sure, but you have to be very concrete in what change you’re looking for so it doesn’t sound like you’re bad-mouthing your current situation (or worse, not appreciating it for superficial reasons like rankings).
You don’t want to sound like you're making excuses and not taking the initiative to make your current college work for you. You want it to seem like you've exhausted every resource and really belong somewhere else. Listing specific examples of what is missing will help with this, in addition to listing what you hope to have at your next school.Read More
Like the admissions essay, the interview is a chance for the college to find out more about you than just your stats. They’re looking for a holistic overview of who you are: aka your passions, personality, and poise. The questions the alumni interviewers ask is completely up to them, but below is a good framework to keep in mind based on my research with alumni interviewers.
I recommend coming up with a few quick bullet point ideas for each one so you don’t get caught off guard on the spot. Your answers don’t have to be perfect - they just want to get a sense of what excites you.
Also remember that this is your chance to interview them about the next four years of your life. Where you go to college is a major decision, so don’t forget to ask them questions about their college experience too.Read More
“Yelena was easy to work with, fast at responding, and provided helpful and honest feedback. She gave me not only grammar and sentence structure suggestions, but also objective feedback on content and a strategy to tell my story in the best way possible. Because of her, I was able to avoid numerous faux pas and mistakes that could have ruined my application. She helped me refine my tone and convey my best self while being authentic. It was super worth it, I highly recommend getting an outside perspective and Yelena is a great person to do that.”
-Adam, accepted to Cornell and Northwestern as a Transfer
The thing most students struggle with is how to open their personal essay. There is a lot of pressure as this is your first impression. In general, you want to employ creative writing techniques. Make us feel like you felt when all this was happening, including the confusion, the frustration.
Below are some proven techniques I give my students, but here’s the good news: your opener may be buried somewhere deeper in the essay and it just takes a seasoned editor to point it out. Don’t stress and just write - you might not find your opening until the 3rd revision, so give yourself enough time to revise.Read More
The 2019 Best College List is oouuuuuuuttttt [US News]
Out-of-state students may have an advantage when applying to UCs. [Forbes]
Grades are still the top-rated factor in admissions. Notably, the importance of standardized test scores is decreasing. [Inside Higher Ed]Read More
“I looked over the final draft of my personal statement and am really happy with it. Thank you so much for all your help throughout this whole process! This really means a lot and, because of you, a great deal of stress has been lifted off my shoulders when I think about my college essays.”
-Jonathan , accepted to Brown, Pomona, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Wesleyan, Middlebury, Kenyon, and Connecticut College