Successful Applications Are Matter of Fact

Daily Pennsylvanian: “Like most universities, Penn does not have a standard system for fact-checking applications. Admissions officers perform initial reviews in as little as four minutes, and a call to a high school guidance counselor or an email to an applicant is as thorough as checks get … Given the massive volume of applications the University receives — 44,957 applicants for the Class of 2023 — current and former admissions officers agree that fact-checking applications is not feasible and instances of outright fabrication seem to be rare … Despite the lack of a formal fact-checking system, former admissions officers say they have still caught applicants lying.”

Elizabeth Heaton, a former regional director of admissions for Penn,”recalled an instance when a regular decision applicant plagiarized their essay based on an essay written by another student who had already been admitted early decision. The former Penn regional admissions director said when she noticed the stark similarities between the two essays, she decided to make a call to the student’s high school.” She comments: “We denied the student who had plagiarized and the other kid was able to keep his acceptance.”

Kathryn Bezella, Vice Dean and director of marketing and communications for Penn Admissions, “confirmed that following up with a guidance counselor or applicant is rare.” However: “Bezella said because of the high number of applications she reads and familiarity with her region, she can typically identify false transcripts and essays.” She comments: “After you’ve read several thousand essays by 17-year-olds, you do have some sense of ‘this is not how a 17-year-old writes’.”

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Prompt Attention: Common App Questions for 2019

CommonApp.org: “The Common Application has announced that the 2019-2020 essay prompts will remain the same as the 2018-2019 essay prompts. Based on extensive counselor feedback, the existing essay prompts provide great flexibility for applicants to tell their unique stories in their own voice. Retaining the essay prompts provides the added benefit of consistency for students, counselors, parents, and members during the admissions process … Plus, with essay prompts remaining the same, students rolling over their existing Common App accounts have more time to plan and prepare their applications prior to the final year of high school.”

“During the 2018-2019 application year, the most popular topic of choice was: ‘Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.’ (24.1%). The next most popular topics were: ‘Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.’ (23.7%), followed by ‘The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?’ (21.1%).”

The questions are:

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.

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

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How Duke Decides

Duke Today: “Here’s a tip for high school seniors wondering how to ace the essay portion of the college application: Just be yourself.” Christoph Guttentag, Duke’s dean of undergraduate admissions, comments: “The challenge is for the student to come across as the individual they are. They should worry less about the quality of the writing and more about the opportunity for the reader to learn about the student.”

“Guttentag said admissions officers work hard to understand each applicant’s personality, interests and character as they build a class of new Duke students each year that is talented, balanced, engaged and diverse. Grades matter a great deal, but so does a student’s desire to learn and a willingness to put talent into action.”

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Seinfeld Style: The Essay About ‘Nothing’

Bates: Darryl Uy, an admissions officer at Bates College, suggests a ‘Seinfeldian’ approach to writing your college essay. He explains: “It could be about nothing but a few moments in your ordinary life that I can’t find anywhere else in your application. If you could take me into your life for 5 minutes, I think that is a successful essay.”

He adds: “Try to find a topic that resonates with you and your experiences so your personality and voice can shine through … If you’re not funny in real life, don’t try to be funny in your essay. That rarely works.”

Katie Moran Madden, a Bates alum and admissions expert, says the essay should reflect both your personal attributes and what you value. “All of us are trying to shape a community. And we try not to create a community of people with similar talents, interests, perspectives … make the essay about you. It doesn’t have to be exciting. It doesn’t have to move us.”

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Unlocking The Mysteries of The Essay

The New York Times: “Documents showing that Harvard rated Asian-American applicants lower on personality traits than applicants of other races raise questions about how college admissions officers evaluate intangible criteria. What constitutes ‘likability’ or ‘courage?’ How do they know someone is ‘widely respected?’ … Most schools look at grade point averages and standardized test scores and may also review letters of recommendation, college essays and extracurricular activities. Colleges that do consider personal qualities are highly variable in the traits they look at and how they are ranked. Nor are they interested in disclosing their criteria.”

“In a study of 10 unidentified schools commissioned by the College Board, traits included ’emotional intelligence,’ ‘self-efficacy’ and ‘creativity’. Leadership, education experts said, is perhaps the most obvious and the most common trait colleges consider in applicants … Colleges don’t like to talk about this much, and officials don’t like to be pinned down. In general, they say they look for traits that reflect the college’s values or that make a student a ‘good fit’ for the institution.”

“Admissions officers say they look for a ‘hook’ in an applicant’s file that may lift the student into consideration, but just what that is hard to define … similar objections have been raised about the emphasis traditionally placed on standardized tests, which many experts believe fail to measure the potential of minority and low-income students. Earlier this week, the University of Chicago became the first elite research university in the country to drop the requirement that applicants submit ACT or SAT scores, instead announcing a program inviting students to submit a two-minute video introduction — where they can perhaps convey their likability.”

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What is ‘The Essay’?

Lit Hub: “As accommodating as they are to subject matter and formal experimentation, essays permit no substitutes; every piece of short nonfiction prose is not an essay … the term ‘essay’ is ambiguous and thus allows those who use it to project onto it whatever it is that we either find most desirable or objectionable about certain kinds of nonfiction writing.”

“It is also easier to define the essay by insisting on what it is not. A habitual skepticism and self-awareness are qualities of mind we often associate with the genre’s most famous practitioners … essayists undo certainties almost as soon as they dare to appear in their own minds, or at least on their pages … genuine essays must not be confused with stories, and formulaic school writing … and worst of all, scholarly articles.”

“Michel de Montaigne … was the first to name his compositions “essais” when he first published them in 1580 … His titles reveal curiosity and reach: several of his most famous essays on topics with broad appeal, ‘Of friendship,’ ‘Of books,’ and ‘Of experience,’ find for company more unexpected foci, ‘Of the custom of wearing clothes,’ ‘Of smells,’ and ‘Of thumbs’ … With his own example, Montaigne offers his reader the possibility that the essay itself can protect us from our worst impulses—to ‘parrot’—and gives us something to do with what we know.”

“Montaigne seeks an education that would require students to examine ‘the relationship between individuals and the conventions by which their experience is defined and contained’ … ‘The true mirror of our discourse is the course of our lives’ … he is most concerned not that our language reflects our actions, ‘the course of our lives,’ but that we will shape our lives to fit the language we have learned to value; his essays model a use of language that encourages us to examine lies we are tempted to tell about those lives.”

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Essay Advice: Fortune Favors the Bold

Business Insider: Ross Galloway “decided to answer Harvard Business School’s (HBS) sole essay question in the voice of an ESPN anchor on SportsCenter.” He explains: “The prompt was: ‘Introduce yourself to your section mates,'” so I wrote my essay as if it was the script. I tried to create this picture for readers.”

His lead-in:

*Turns on SportsCenter theme music from his phone.*

“Hello and welcome to SportsCenter! On today’s special edition of our program we will be providing you the top 3 highlights of Ross Galloway’s life.”

“He had some doubts about this approach, especially as he received some advice to stick to a more traditional response to the question. But he wanted to remain authentic to himself … That bet paid off. Galloway finished his first year at HBS in May.” Says Ross: “Fortune favors the bold.”

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When Followers are Leaders

Susan Cain: “If college admissions offices show us whom and what we value, then we seem to think that the ideal society is composed of Type A’s. This is perhaps unsurprising, even if these examples come from highly competitive institutions. It’s part of the American DNA to celebrate those who rise above the crowd … So now we have high school students vying to be president of as many clubs as they can. It’s no longer enough to be a member of the student council; now you have to run the school.”

“But many students I’ve spoken with read ‘leadership skills’ as a code for authority and dominance and define leaders as those who ‘can order other people around.’ And according to one prominent Ivy League professor, those students aren’t wrong; leadership, as defined by the admissions process, too often ‘seems to be restricted to political or business power.’ She says admissions officers fail to define leadership as ‘making advances in solving mathematical problems’ or ‘being the best poet of the century’.”

“Perhaps the biggest disservice done by the outsize glorification of ‘leadership skills’ is to the practice of leadership itself — it hollows it out, it empties it of meaning. It attracts those who are motivated by the spotlight rather than by the ideas and people they serve. It teaches students to be a leader for the sake of being in charge, rather than in the name of a cause or idea they care about deeply.”

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Common App Update: Big Changes This Year

Washington Post: “The Common Application, used by nearly 700 colleges and universities in the United States and abroad for admissions, just announced its essay prompts for the 2017-2018 college admissions season — and there are some big changes from last year.”

“So here they are …

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. [No change]

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? [Revised]

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma — anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. [No change]

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]

6. Describe a topic, idea or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? [New]

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. [New]”

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