Good College Essay Topics For Your Applications

As students head back to school and the application season starts to really heat up, we thought we'd take this week to focus on things you can do to hone your work and make your writing more memorable to those overworked admissions officers.

One of the most obvious things you can do to make your writing stand out is to choose an exciting, accessible topic for your essay. Of course, many of the prompts will be decided for you, but that doesn't mean the topic is. College applications are known for their broad, interpretable questions that have a surprising amount of flexibility to them if you think about it for a bit.

Here are a few good places to start:

  • What are your favorite activities and hobbies? Why?
  • What are your talents/skills? How did you develop them? Who helped you?
  • Who have been the most influential people in your life?
  • What was your most memorable experience? Best? Worst?
  • How have you changed in the past four years?

We've got more good essay topics for you here. Remember to not always choose the first thing that comes to mind. It's much more important to have a good piece of writing than to just get it over with.

Ten Ways IECA Uniquely Serves Educational Consultants


Mark Sklarow, IECA Executive Director

The following is a guest blog post from our partners at IECA, the Independent Educational Consultants Association. This is the first in a series of IECA articles that will be posted here.

Mark Sklarow has served as Executive Director of the Independent Educational Consultants Association for 16 years. Prior to this he was Dean of Students at a private day school in Philadelphia, a Political Science instructor at Temple University, and Director of Education at Presidential Classroom. As IECA’s CEO he presents extensively across the country about trends in the field of independent educational consulting, and offers trainings and assistance to those entering the profession.

Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education recently completed a study of the field of Educational Consulting.  Noting the dramatic growth of the field, the research concluded by cautioning parents and other educators to steer clear of the thousands of educational consultants who have refused to subject themselves to the thorough vetting process required of membership in the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) or the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA).  As a result, there has been increased exploration among consultants in joining IECA.  To assist those unaffiliated, yet serious professionals, here are my “top ten” ways IECA helps to serve independent educational consultants:

1. Referrals: Given our extensive outreach efforts and national promotional work, the IECA print and online directories are referenced by parents thousands of times each week.  Just in the past few days we heard from one member noting that he received 4 referrals in August alone and another new member who noted she received her first client from an IECA referral, less than a week after joining.  A single referral covers the cost of IECA membership many times over.

2. Professional Development: IECA hosts multi-day and full-day training programs for those newer to the profession each fall (in conjunction with NACAC) and each summer.  We partnered with the University of California/Irvine extension to offer the only certificate program in independent educational consulting.  Our two national conferences draw between 850 and 1200 attendees each, including hundreds of colleges who participate in our fairs.  We also sponsor group campus tours throughout the year and IECA members receive invitations to members-only and other group tours through our website.

3. National Staff: IECA’s professional staff of 6 full-time employees means that someone is always here to help.  Whether you are working on your own social networking, need assistance with one of our dozens of member benefits, have questions about an upcoming meeting, need a sample contract or want to examine business expansion or ethics concerns, the IECA staff is available to you.

4. Small Business Assistance: We know that most who enter the field do so with a background in admissions or counseling and chose the profession because they are passionate about helping adolescents.  Yet to “make it” consultants must also embrace entrepreneurial skills and we assist members every step of the way in understanding small business skills from running an office to marketing.

5. Press and Public Relations: IECA spends considerable resources on its public outreach efforts.  Our goal is to make sure that when families, educators and the media think about independent educational consulting, IECA comes to mind.  We make all of our dozens of brochures and fliers available to members to use and continually look for ways to use new media including blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook and much more.

6. Leading the profession: Ask anyone who sets the standards for educational consulting and IECA is mentioned.  The recent Harvard Study noted our ‘Standards of Excellence’ and our ‘Principles of Good Practice’ as the two leading documents for those entering the profession.  Our opinions are valued, our leadership sought out.  No wonder those who want to be seen as serious professionals and leaders in the field join IECA.

7. Member Services: Marketing, publications, campus tours, special events, discounts on professional materials and office supplies (including College Essay Optimizer), healthcare programs, liability insurance, mentoring and members-only seminars are just some of the offerings for members.

8. Peer Networking: Central to our mission is a belief that professionals support each other in their work.  Whether through our ListServe, mentoring or interactions during workshops, seminars or conferences, those who join IECA become part of a network of consultants stretching around the globe.

9. Holistic View of Adolescence: We do not believe you can view college admission in a vacuum, and we do not exist to assit only with admission.  IECA believes strongly that independent educational consultants must understand the entire child.  We help ensure our members understand issues like depression, teen anxiety, impact of adoption, learning disabilities, non-traditional families and more, to best serve the needs of all students.

10. Recognition for Excellence: When you include “Member, IECA” on your brochure or Web site, it conveys a great deal about you: that you have been fully vetted, that you are among the most respected, knowledgeable, competent consultants with top-notch training, experience and credentials.  No wonder so many in the media, in college admission offices, and among parents, will only work with IECA Members.

To learn more about IECA and membership opportunities, visit: http://www.iecaonline.com/membership.html

CEO's Essay Requirement Updating Rolls On

We're hard at work here at CEO keeping all the essay requirements current for each school in our extensive database. Each Friday, we send an email out to our current members to let them know which schools have been updated for the coming year, as well as to update them on key admissions data such as application deadlines, SAT and ACT ranges of accepted students, and class rank percentiles for the most recent class to enroll.

As an example, here's the list of those added just this week, putting our list of updated schools at well over 430!

  1. Colby College
  2. Columbia College Chicago
  3. Davidson College
  4. Earlham College
  5. Eugene Lang College
  6. Fairfield University
  7. Fairleigh Dickinson University
  8. Long Island University/C.W. Post Campus
  9. Marist College
  10. Mercer University
  11. Michigan State University
  12. Montana State University-Bozeman
  13. Mount St. Mary's College
  14. New Mexico State University
  15. Northeastern University
  16. Northwestern University
  17. Occidental College
  18. Oglethorpe University
  19. Ohio State University-Columbus
  20. Ohio University
  21. Old Dominion University
  22. Pennsylvania State University-University Park
  23. Philadelphia University
  24. Plymouth State University
  25. Ramapo College of New Jersey
  26. Ringling College of Art & Design
  27. Rollins College
  28. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
  29. Rutgers-New Brunswick
  30. Rutgers-Newark
  31. Seattle Pacific University
  32. Skidmore College
  33. St. Bonaventure University
  34. St. Catherine University
  35. St. John's College (MD)
  36. St. John's College (NM)
  37. Stonehill College
  38. Transylvania University
  39. Tulane University
  40. University of New Haven
  41. University of Pennsylvania
  42. Wheaton College (MA)
  43. Xavier University (OH)

By using our Essay RoadMap preview page you can see all the schools we've updated so far for 2011. Any college without an asterisk has been updated - and while you're at it, you can see first-hand the potential of what CEO can do for you.

The updating process continues in earnest this weekend, with another large push coming in the early parts of September. Stay tuned.

CEO Updates College Application Deadlines

In the process of updating the requirements for the new application season, we at CEO have found an enormous number of discrepancies between publicly available information regarding school application deadlines, and what is listed on the schools' own sites. To make matters more confusing, most third-party sites, and even many of the schools' own admissions pages, leave out important dates for special programs and departmental applications. So in our continuing effort to be as accurate and thorough as possible, we are updating deadline information as these applications become available, resolving any discrepancies we may find. Rest assured that we are double- and triple-checking our work, to make sure that the information we present is as perfect as can be.

With so many different sources for this information, such as the Common App, College Board, and NCES, CEO is your trusted source, doing all the investigative work that would take one person days.

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New York University Sets a Common App Record With 30 Essays

If you had a flag for every essay... That'd be thirty flags.

30? You read that right. The powers that be at New York University have so specifically divided the school that there are now 30 essays for undergrads to consider waiting in our database. 30!

To the school's credit, no undergraduate applicant will have to write thirty individual essays when applying to NYU. The numerous essays mostly belong to specific departments, like the Tisch School of the Arts or the Silver School of Social work - all told, the Violet Bobcats of NYU have essays for programs in Film, Photography, Music Business, you name it. They even have a new satellite school in Abu Dhabi. While no applicant will have to address them all, each applicant will have to write several essays, regardless of which school within the university he or she chooses.

It just goes to show that the breadth and reach of schools like NYU should not be underestimated, and that with tools like CEO you can get a shortcut to those requirements, and in turn, see the opportunities that schools of such great diversity offer.

So keep in mind that the big schools often pose as many challenges in their applications as they do in their classes! It's all benefits in the long run, but managing the task from the get-go can be daunting. Make sure you have the right tools to guide you on your journey.

And while you're at it, make sure you're not just avoiding questions like this guy.

New York Times Writes About the Common Application

Cree Bautista! Congratulations, you're on CEO blog! Weird, right?

This new article in the New York Times' Education section talks about unlikely hero to college applicants everywhere, Cree Bautista. Mr. Bautista saw fit to apply to NYU just a few hours after the Common App went live at the beginning of this month, and in so doing became the first applicant of the year through the site.

Cree's eagerness, though exceptional in degree, isn't uncommon in practice. The Common App's directors have already started talking about the speed of this year's applicant pool, and the sheer number of applications students are managing. From the Times' article:

"Rob Killion, executive director of the Common Application, said he was particularly unnerved by the flood of early submissions through the organization's website because he feared that students were rushing their essays. (This year’s Common Application was actually posted several weeks later than last year’s — not as a prod to get applicants to file later, but instead to allow high schools extra time to send final documents before the new year begins.)"

Remember, your top choice is not your only choice! There are many applications to be managed, and sites like CEO are here to get that work out in front of you and help you keep it under control from the get-go. While we can't all be like Cree, we can all save ourselves from those last-minute crushes of papers and apps.

Answering Many College Essay Questions With One Piece of Writing

Not quite the right kind of essays. Close, but no cigar.

CEO minimizes your essay requirements - this might be something you have heard us mention from time to time on the blog. But what exactly does that mean? How does CEO help students and counselors who are strapped for time and looking to sift through an ever-growing pile of application work?

Imagine that you have three separate applications in front of you, and they have these three prompts:

Question for College #1: "There is a Quaker saying: ''Let your life speak.'' Describe the environment in which you were raised—your family, home, neighborhood or community—and how it influenced the person you are today."

Question for College #2: "We honor the many different forms of diversity in our community. Your perspective is valuable because if comes from your life experiences, family background, and culture. Please tell us about yourself and what you believe is the best way to share your perspective. Also, what do you hope to learn from the experiences of others?"

Question for College #3: "In our ever-changing society, people have defined 'equity' and 'community' in many different ways. How do you define these terms and what are the implications of equity and community for our 21st century society?"

These three questions can each be answered by writing about a personal value you hold. What CEO's Essay RoadMap does - automatically and instantly - is determine these overlaps, and then show you the shortest path through your many essay requirements, regardless of whether you're using the Common App or the schools' own applications. Oh, by the way, CEO figures out which of those you should choose, too.

The key is to read all three of these questions and find one personal value that addresses each specific question.

You might, for example, write about the unique way community plays a role in your life (i.e. how you volunteer at a hospital reading to the elderly and how this relates to your perception of the generation gap in our culture). This can then be easily modified to address the other two questions.

Easy, neat, and dynamic, too - CEO updates its results automatically as you add schools to your list. Quite the time-saver.

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The Journal of College Admission Writes on New Technologies

Where does the road in that logo roam? To new technologies, my friend.

The Journal of College Admission, a publication that discusses the National Association for College Admission Counseling (or NACAC), recently put out an article called "Using Technology in Undergraduate Admission: A Student Perspective."

It points out that nearly all students are using various forms of technology to guide them through the admissions process. In fact, the article mentions that, "One survey found that 88 percent of college-bound prospective students would be disappointed or possibly eliminate a school from consideration if the institution's web site did not meet expectations."

We encounter many college websites that are more complicated than they need to be, especially in their organization of honors, scholarship, and departmental essays, so we commiserate with applicants who are frustrated by this. Lucky for you, CEO's goal is to design a simple technology that provides a solution while streamlining your efforts to simplify and organize the process. Glad to have you with us as we head into the new application season.

Common Application for 2011 Is Live - New Schools Added

That's right. It says 35 years.

The Common App has updated for the class of 2015. This year's application features twenty-nine new schools, including Columbia University, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, UConn, and three SUNY schools - Maritime College, Morrisville State College, and Potsdam.

As in past years, many schools require supplements to the Common App, which means additional writing, sorting, and organization. CEO is right on the edge of these releases and we make sure our application information is up to date. So as these supplements are made available, we'll have them here, and your Essay QuickFinders and Essay RoadMaps will update automatically to reflect the latest information for the schools you've selected.

Make the most of these early releases and get your writing done ahead of time! Remember that CEO is a great resource for finding scholarship and honors programs, too. That's cash money and respect! What else could you ask for?

One of the reasons schools make these requirements known so far ahead of time is to allow you to explore the departmental and honors requirements so many of them have without getting overwhelmed. Too often we hear about students who choose not to apply to programs or even entire universities just because of the application workload! That just won't do. So use CEO's tools as much as you can and keep your eye on the prize.