Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Columbia & NYU as a Transfer

Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Columbia & NYU as a Transfer

“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 & NYU

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8 Mistakes to Avoid in a Transfer Application Essay

8 Mistakes to Avoid in a Transfer Application Essay

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.

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Be Prepared For These College Interview Questions (And 5 Other Tips to Note)

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.

And whatever you do, do not bring your parent with you! That is a major red flag - your answers have to feel authentic and this application process is just one step towards your independence. Having a parent with you signals that you are not ready to branch out on your own. 

Keep in mind that the alumni interviewers should not ask you about your grades or test scores, and should also not research anything about you on social media.

Finally, remember that the interviewers are not on the admissions team and are alumni who are volunteering their time. Be gracious with them and remember that they can’t tell you your chances of getting in, so don’t bother asking.

Without further ado, here are the questions you are most likely to be asked on your college interview.

What is your favorite book you read for school?

What is your favorite subject and/or teacher? 

What are your interests besides your schoolwork?

What kinds of book do you read outside of school?

To which of your non-academic activities are you most committed? How has this affected your academic coursework?

What do you have in common with your closest friends? How do you differ from them?

How important is diversity in the type of educational environment you seek?

What is appealing to you about this school in particular?

What specific book, article or journal have you read in the last year that had a significant impact on your thinking or perspective?

Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Northwestern & Cornell as a Transfer

Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Northwestern & Cornell as a Transfer

“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

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4 Ways to Create a Compelling Opener In Your Personal Statement

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.

PLAY WITH YOUR STORY’S TIMELINE

Think about a recent movie you saw and how it opened - did it start from the character being born or did it start in the middle of a climactic moment? Most award-winning movies and books play with time. You can start at any point in your story’s timeline. (If your anecdote is about a traumatic moment in your childhood, it’s ok to start chronologically at the beginning.) If you’re stuck, pretend like you're writing a screenplay about your life and you’re filming that first scene. Speaking in the present tense and introducing an element of tension will make the opening more compelling. But don't forget your inner thoughts and feelings - what you seeing, thinking, hearing, feeling as you run?

START IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ACTION

Any fellow AP English nerds know this literary technique as “in medias res.” Most openings “tell us” what’s going on instead of “showing us.” For a more creative approach, start mid-story in the present tense. If you’re writing about your passion for track, you could start in the middle of your hardest race or about your first experience learning how to run in the 4th grade. Find the most compelling moment in your story to start with instead of telling us the story chronologically. Whichever moment you choose, remember that the tensions and emotions should be high. Don’t pick a boring anecdote that doesn’t resonate with you - it should be something you remember vividly. Then tell it to us as though it’s happening in real time, in the present.

HEIGHTEN THE EMOTIONAL STAKES

The opener can be a shocking or funny statement to get the reader's attention right away, while keeping some mystery to engage them to keep reading. Just make sure you address all the unanswered questions in the next paragraph. Once you’ve successfully grabbed our attention, you should provide all the missing background. In the next paragraph, zoom out and tell us the context of where you are and the background behind this race. Don’t forget to include timeline markers like how old you were so that we get a sense of the full transformation throughout the essay.

EVOKE THE 5 SENSES

Don’t forget to evoke your five senses in a new opener that makes us feel like how you feel when you run. What do you see, hear, feel, sense, or taste? (They might not all apply, so pick the ones that most resonate with that memory you’re describing). Make us feel like we're in your head and can hear all your thoughts. Explain everything going on in your mind at this moment. Make us feel like we’re right there with you. Paint the scene for us. Again, if the moment wasn’t meaningful enough that you don’t remember your thoughts or senses, then that anecdote is probably not the right one and you should choose a different one.

Admissions News You Might Have Missed: Inside the Harvard lawsuit

Admissions News You Might Have Missed: Inside the Harvard lawsuit

The 2019 Best College List is oouuuuuuuttttt [US News]

Out-of-state students may have an advantage when applying to UCs. [Forbes]

Get ready for some spilled tea: Inside the affirmative action lawsuit against Harvard [NYTimes] & 4 factors that give you an advantage for getting in. [NYTimes] [WashPo]

Grades are still the top-rated factor in admissions. Notably, the importance of standardized test scores is decreasing. [Inside Higher Ed]

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Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Brown, Pomona, Wesleyan & more!

Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Brown, Pomona, Wesleyan & 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

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How to Turn Your Campus Visit Into a Supplemental Essay

How to Turn Your Campus Visit Into a Supplemental Essay

 Bring this list of questions with you to generate great “why this college” essay material.-What did you love about the visit? Ex: Meeting the professors, the students, learning about the curriculum, or other defining traits?
-Make sure you visit the department you’re interested in majoring in to find out more about the professors, requirements, interesting classes, and other specifics that could work well.
-What do the students seem like and what excited you about studying with them? Have you, for example, found your people? How so?

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Exclusive: Application Essay Tips From a Former Admissions Officer (Part 2)

Exclusive: Application Essay Tips From a Former Admissions Officer (Part 2)

 Supplement essays are sometimes more important than the Common App essay

“The other thing that's really important is their demonstrated interest essay, the ‘why this college’ essay. If you can cross out the name of the school and drop in a similar school, and the essay still works, that's a bad essay. If you’re applying to BU,and can you can cross BU out and replace it with Northeastern and Boston College, for example, and the essay still works, you have a problem. The ‘why this college essay’ has to be specific.”

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Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Georgia Tech, UCLA, UCSD & more!

Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Georgia Tech, UCLA, UCSD & more!

“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.”

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How to Cut Down Your Admissions Essay for Word Count

How to Cut Down Your Admissions Essay for Word Count

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.

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

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

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.

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Exclusive: Application Essay Tips From a Former College Admissions Officer (Part 1)

Exclusive: Application Essay Tips From a Former College Admissions Officer (Part 1)

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.”

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Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Yale & UPenn

Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Yale & UPenn

"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 

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Why You Should Ignore Word Count (At First)

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. 

The 8 Grammar Mistakes to Watch Out For

The 8 Grammar Mistakes to Watch Out For

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.

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Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Columbia University

Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Columbia University

"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)

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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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4 Admissions Essays That Worked—And Why

4 Admissions Essays That Worked—And Why

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.

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Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Cornell University

Testimonial Tuesday: Accepted to Cornell University

"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 University

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