Clichés To Avoid In Your College Essay

Quartz: “Of the thousands of gushing essays from eager students that wash across their desks each year, a great number are virtually the same. Per the Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS) … far too many teenagers’ personal statements begin with ‘hackneyed phrases.’ UCAS looked at submissions from 700,000 students who applied to British schools in the past year and found several opening lines being used again and again, which suggests that the subject matter is often drearily similar, too.”

Among the most frequently repeated phrases:

“From a young age, I have been interested in/fascinated by…”
“I am applying for this course because…”
“Reflecting on my educational experiences…”
“Academically, I have always been…”

“Nelson Mandela can take credit for the eleventh most repeated opening line: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ The quote was used by 148 of the applicants in the study.”

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The Cost of College Continues To Rise

The Boston Globe: “The average annual “sticker price” — the total cost of college without factoring in any financial aid — for a four-year private college in the United States was $40,656 for the 2014-15 school year, the most recent year for which data was available … The US public four-year college sticker price was $22,093 … For two-year public colleges, the sticker price was $16,444 nationally … The upward trend is clearly visible in data collected by the federal government for the past 15 years.”

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Hard Work Pays Off For Diligent Applicants

Quartz: “As challenging as elite college admissions are these days, kids don’t actually have to be world-class athletes or high-ranking chess champions to make the grade. Often, they just have to be extraordinarily hard workers.”

“Vincent Viego a senior at Skaneateles High School in New York who was accepted this year to all eight Ivies as well as 14 other universities … said he spent roughly 10 hours a week filling out and revising his applications, with most of that time devoted to his personal essays, which described his identity as a Cuban-American and his enthusiasm for bioengineering.”

“Dedication alone doesn’t necessarily guarantee success; high test scores, stellar leadership roles, and other achievements also show up in most of these students’ track records. But the common pattern suggests that regardless of how brilliant you are, it pays to put in the extra time.”

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Sometimes ‘Plan B’ Is a Better Fit

CNBC: “When students and families weigh everything that goes into attending college, not least the cost, ‘the plan B schools sometimes are a better fit,’ said Katherine Pastor, a school counselor at Flagstaff High School in Arizona.” In fact, ‘close to 17 percent of first-time freshmen were accepted at their top school and chose to attend somewhere else,” according to UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute.

“Some 58 percent of those enrolling at their second-choice school said cost was an issue, compared with 41 percent of those attending their first choice,” according to the Institute. “Students opting for their first-choice school, in contrast, were more likely to cite graduates’ record of landing good jobs or getting into top graduate or professional schools. They were also more likely to mention their school’s strong academic record, the Institute found.”

“Pastor, the Arizona school counselor, said she hears about students who set off for their first choice, only to find that it is not a good fit … Outcomes like that can be particularly difficult if a student has passed on scholarships and aid offers from a second-choice school, and now has to restart the process. The upside may be this, however: ‘I have never heard of a kid who picked their second-choice school who has not been happy with their choice,’ Pastor said.”

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Which Schools Are The Best Investment?

Business Insider: PayScale’s College ROI Report helps students “decide which school is the best fit for their career goals and their financial situation … PayScale says, however, that this doesn’t mean students should pursue only majors with the highest earning potential or make decisions about where to attend school based solely off college ROI rankings. They need to do what will make them happy — but it doesn’t hurt to be educated on their potential return.”

bi_graphics-colleges-and-their-roi-figures

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You Can Negotiate Financial Aid

Business Insider: “What some applicants might not know is that it is possible to bargain with colleges on your financial aid package.” Kwasi Enin, who was accepted by all eight Ivy League schools, offers this advice:

“I took Princeton’s letter and I emailed that to Yale, Columbia, and Penn. Within like a week, they all sent me a new financial aid offer on their financial aid website and they matched the same offer.”

“You need to send them a nice letter saying, ‘I love your school but I have a better offer at a similarly ranked school called ‘X’ and if you can find a way to make it possible that I can attend this school by making the aid work out, that would be wonderful.'”

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Where You Live Can Affect Where You Get In

Quartz: “No one state offers its students a leg up on elite admissions nationwide. But being from a place that’s typically underrepresented in the school’s applicant pool can be a big advantage for prospective students.” For example: “Brown accepted 8.5% of all applicants in 2015, the lowest rate in its history. It took that same percentage from California (5,062 applicants), Texas (1,197), and New Jersey (1,620). But 17.1% of both Alaska’s 35 applicants and Mississippi’s 41 got in. So did 20% of the 20 applicants from North Dakota. Of the 23 students who applied from Montana, seven were accepted—a success rate of 30%.”

“Sparsely-populated states aren’t guaranteed big acceptance rates. Brown sent fat envelopes to just 1.5% of 68 applicants from Iowa, and to 5.7% of the 53 from Nebraska. But generally, it appeared to be a major advantage to students if few other people from their home state applied.”

“… Students from California and the Mid-Atlantic region are often overrepresented at elite institutions. New Jersey has less than 3% of the nation’s 15 to 19-year-olds, but contributes roughly 6% of the freshman classes at Caltech, Duke, and Yale, and 12.5% of first-years at Penn. New York is home to 6% of 15 to 19-year-olds nationwide but almost 10% of freshmen at Duke and MIT, and 15% of those at Yale. California, the most-populous state, has 12.5% of 15-19-year-olds but represents 14.2% of first-years at Yale, 18.4% at MIT, and 37.7% at Caltech.”

“But when it comes to admissions … no geographic location can make up for a thoroughly underwhelming application. There are too many qualified candidates. Schools simply don’t admit students who don’t deserve to be there.”

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Costco & The Art of the College Essay

Business Insider: Brittany Stinson, a Delaware high-school senior who was accepted at five Ivy League universities as well as Stanford, Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, NYU and BU, says she’s “a shy person.” Yes, she has a 4.9 GPA (weighted), speaks fluent Portuguese, and has presented research at MIT. She also wrote a great essay, with a surprising focus: Costco. It’s well worth reading, and proof positive that ostensibly ordinary life experiences can be turned into extraordinary college admissions essays:

Prompt 1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Managing to break free from my mother’s grasp, I charged. With arms flailing and chubby legs fluttering beneath me, I was the ferocious two­ year old rampaging through Costco on a Saturday morning. My mother’s eyes widened in horror as I jettisoned my churro; the cinnamon­sugar rocket gracefully sliced its way through the air while I continued my spree. I sprinted through the aisles, looking up in awe at the massive bulk products that towered over me. Overcome with wonder, I wanted to touch and taste, to stick my head into industrial­sized freezers, to explore every crevice. I was a conquistador, but rather than searching the land for El Dorado, I scoured aisles for free samples. Before inevitably being whisked away into a shopping cart, I scaled a mountain of plush toys and surveyed the expanse that lay before me: the kingdom of Costco.

Notorious for its oversized portions and dollar­fifty hot dog combo, Costco is the apex of consumerism. From the days spent being toted around in a shopping cart to when I was finally tall enough to reach lofty sample trays, Costco has endured a steady presence throughout my life. As a veteran Costco shopper, I navigate the aisles of foodstuffs, thrusting the majority of my weight upon a generously filled shopping cart whose enormity juxtaposes my small frame. Over time, I’ve developed a habit of observing fellow patrons tote their carts piled with frozen burritos, cheese puffs, tubs of ice cream, and weight­loss supplements. Perusing the aisles gave me time to ponder. Who needs three pounds of sour cream? Was cultured yogurt any more well­mannered than its uncultured counterpart? Costco gave birth to my unfettered curiosity.

While enjoying an obligatory hot dog, I did not find myself thinking about the ‘all beef’ goodness that Costco boasted. I instead considered finitudes and infinitudes, unimagined uses for tubs of sour cream, the projectile motion of said tub when launched from an eighty foot shelf or maybe when pushed from a speedy cart by a scrawny seventeen year old. I contemplated the philosophical: If there exists a thirty­three ounce jar of Nutella, do we really have free will? I experienced a harsh physics lesson while observing a shopper who had no evident familiarity of inertia’s workings. With a cart filled to overflowing, she made her way towards the sloped exit, continuing to push and push while steadily losing control until the cart escaped her and went crashing into a concrete column, 52” plasma screen TV and all. Purchasing the yuletide hickory smoked ham inevitably led to a conversation between my father and me about Andrew Jackson’s controversiality. There was no questioning Old Hickory’s dedication; he was steadfast in his beliefs and pursuits – qualities I am compelled to admire, yet his morals were crooked. We both found the ham to be more likeable–and tender.

I adopted my exploratory skills, fine tuned by Costco, towards my intellectual endeavors. Just as I sampled buffalo­chicken dip or chocolate truffles, I probed the realms of history, dance and biology, all in pursuit of the ideal cart–one overflowing with theoretical situations and notions both silly and serious. I sampled calculus, cross­country running, scientific research, all of which are now household favorites. With cart in hand, I do what scares me; I absorb the warehouse that is the world. Whether it be through attempting aerial yoga, learning how to chart blackbody radiation using astronomical software, or dancing in front of hundreds of people, I am compelled to try any activity that interests me in the slightest.

My intense desire to know, to explore beyond the bounds of rational thought; this is what defines me. Costco fuels my insatiability and cultivates curiosity within me at a cellular level. Encoded to immerse myself in the unknown, I find it difficult to complacently accept the “what”; I want to hunt for the “whys” and dissect the “hows”. In essence, I subsist on discovery.

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Finding Yourself: What Would Confucius Say?

The Wall Street Journal: “Imagine a student who has decided he wants to become a diplomat … He knows that majoring in international relations and taking his junior year abroad in Spain will give him the experiences that will propel him toward that career in diplomacy. So he goes off to Spain, but after a month falls ill with a severe respiratory virus that lands him in the hospital. It is his first experience of hospitalization, and it plants a seed: He becomes curious about how and why doctors and hospitals do what they do.”

“Things can now go one of two ways. He can remain wedded to his long-term plan and let that interest in health care die out. The hospital experience will make for a few good stories for his friends, but it won’t interfere with his plan to take the diplomatic world by storm. Or he can keep diving into his new obsession, reading everything he can, maybe making friends with some of the young residents on his medical team, and eventually return to the U.S. and devote himself to a health-care field instead.”

“Concrete, defined plans for life are abstract because they are made for a self who is abstract: a future self that you imagine based on a snapshot of yourself now. You are confined to what is in the best interests of the person you happen to be right now—not of the person you will become … think of life not in terms of decisions but as a series of ruptures that lead us from one thing to another … Live with a constant awareness of the ever-changing world and your ever-shifting self. Train your mind to stay open and constantly take into account all the complex stuff that is you.”

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