The Fall 2010 Journal of College Admission features an insightful editorial by Robert Bardwell describing the difficulties guidance counselors face today. As the number of college applications balloons nationwide, guidance counselors are able to budget less and less time to students in one-on-one environments. Mandated testing and paperwork, in conjunction with insufficient training and education, make the job more complicated and time-consuming than ever.
Another often-overlooked element of the job cited in Bardwell's article is that for many low-income and first-generation students, guidance counselors are the only source of college admissions counseling. For these students especially, one-on-one time is vital.
We at CEO see our website as an essential part of making the college admissions process more efficient, not only for students, but for counselors as well. CEO's new master account service makes it easy for guidance counselors to keep all of their students' requirements accessible from within a single account, and makes it possible to continually update that information when students' plans change.
One of the most pressing concerns for guidance counselors as their responsibilities grow (but their time available does not) is that statistics have proven that very high student-to-counselor ratios negatively affect the access students have to college advising, which can only hurt their chances at finding a school that optimally suits them. We at CEO aim to be a driving force in creating more time for counselors to do what they do best - serve students.
So you’ve done all the research. You now know where you’re applying, your SAT scores are stellar, and your list of extracurriculars is a mile long. But how do you make yourself stand out amongst the thousands of other students all fighting for the same spot at your top choice school?
We know that writing a strong college essay is the best way to ensure that admissions officers see the student behind the numbers. So don’t hide who you are, and use these tips to make sure your true colors come through:
1. Choose a topic that is specific to you.
Students often make the mistake of choosing a topic that is too broad or overused. For example, a vague recollection of some sports-related memory or a generally clichéd observation on life lessons learned while volunteering at a homeless shelter. Ask yourself this: What is a story only I can tell? That’s the one they want to hear.
2. Have a trusted educator read a draft.
The pressures of applications can make students feel like they have to sound “smart,” but once the thesaurus comes out for those four-syllable zingers, your personality can easily disappear. “If it sounds like a Ph.D thesis, it’s probably not their voice, the voice we’re looking for,” says Parke Muthe, the associate dean of admissions at the University of Virginia. Having a teacher or guidance counselor you respect read a draft can ensure the words are truly yours.
3. Be concise.
Most essay requirements cap the word count at 500, so make every word purposeful. Cut anything that is superfluous or repetitive. Each sentence should reveal a little more information about you: the way you think, the way you act, and the way you see the world. That way, admissions officers can walk away from your essay with a sense of who you are and hopefully, remember you. That said, going a bit over the word limit is not going to hurt your chances – and it might even help if those additional words convey a great deal more about you.
Another way of thinking about this is don't write for length. Your high school teachers often do you a disservice by assigning a paper as a "two page assignment." Think about the content first, not how long it needs to be. You want this piece of writing packed with specific, memorable content, rather than words just for words' sake. Revise and edit! This means writing a lot more than you think you have to, then cutting it down for the material that matters.
Ever heard of “The Deal” before? It’s just a little thing that keeps everyone and everything thing in the entire world together. You and your friends, your parents, even you and your college have a deal – it's the thing one side wants that the other can give them.
For you, it’s clear what you want from the school: an endless stream of parties masquerading as an education. Quick tickets to a cappella concerts. That sort of thing. When you apply to a university, you’re making it clear you want them.
But for the school, what is it they want from you? Believe it or not, it’s your job to figure that out.
When you identify what it is about you that is desirable, you help do the college’s work for them.
Maybe you’re a left-handed oboe player from Wyoming? Maybe not. Maybe you’re a world-class chess champion who is also a left-handed oboe player. Okay, sorry about that. Focus.
The point is that each applicant has something that sets him or her apart, and it’s your job as an applicant to find it, and make it a big part of your application. You need to make it clear what the deal is between you and the school – you get a four-year party with some schooling on the side and a very large bill, and they get… what?
Who are you and what do you bring to the table?
Remember to articulate what might stand out best about you. While you're at it, try and write as few essays as possible for all the schools you want to apply to. Now you're doing twice the work with less than twice the effort. Not half bad.
“Where do you really want to go?”
We’ve definitely all heard that one, and high school seniors are getting driven especially crazy by it this time of year. When you’ve got your heart set on your top choice school, having everyone bugging you about which one it is can make you feel like you’re about to jinx your college application every single day.
The main reason why you can just relax is that you’re more qualified than you think you are. You picked your top school because it fits you as a person, and because it offers classes and programs that people like you are made for.
What’s better, there are a lot of resources available to help you through the college admissions process and guide you as you show what kind of applicant you are. Sites like CEO can help you understand what's expected of you as you focus your writing to make sure your nature comes through in your essays as clearly as possible.
Seek out advice on how to write, structure, and deliver your college admissions essay in a way that makes who you are clear and understandable, while remaining unique, which, trust us, is a big priority.
Can you picture a pile of essays as high as your dining room table? Now picture ten more of those stacks and you know what most big universities are up against. But lucky for you, finding a way to make your writing stand out from the pack has never been easier, and that makes your work on your most important application simpler and more effective.
Independent Consultant and CEO user Erin Avery has developed a new application for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad called CollegeApp. CollegeApp uses a colorful and fun interface to help students find the universities that fit them best, allowing them to choose from among 600 of the most selective colleges in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico.
"My biggest leap into the current trends in social media and technology is the creation of CollegeApp, which by now, you may know, if the college search application I developed for iPhone and iPod Touch and iPad. It was an astounding process to conceive of an idea, and through the utilization of current technology, have it spring to life as a useful interactive tool for students, parents and counselors alike!"
With CollegeApp, users build a version of their ideal college characteristics using an avatar with rotating body parts that correspond to attributes such as size, location, cost, Greek life and selectivity. After the selections have been made, a list of colleges appears that match these chosen characteristics. The results page includes the most updated specifics self-reported by each college so that the information is accurate, current and pertinent. A map even appears to show location with a direct link to each college's website.
The application also offers a search feature geared toward guidance counselors, educational consultants, and parents alike. In a moment, users can isolate every college with Greek life, or every college located in a small town or city, or every college in a hot climate, or any number of combinations of the above.
Oh. And it's free. Click here to learn more!
With early decision deadlines surrounding us this week, we'd like to point you to this classic article over at the Wall Street Journal that reminds us just how difficult it really is to write a college application essay.
We'd like to emphasize the thought these college and university presidents gave to the topics of their essays. Selecting your topic and point of view carefully is a fundamental part of writing the admission essay (not to mention all writing in general). Are you writing about yourself in the present? About yourself in the recent past? Are you writing about yourself before you had a change in opinion or experience?
The people the Journal write about here might seem different from typical college applicants in that they are older and more experienced than those applying now, but in reality, writing their essays is not so different from writing yours. You need to intelligently choose your subject matter, making it something that is distinctive, personal, memorable, and accessible.
Near the end of the article, one writer considers, but then avoids, writing about her morning workout routine. The reasons she cites are good - it's boring and self-congratulatory - but the more important reason not to choose such a topic is that it tells us little about the writer's life outside of the gym. These essays want to be more than a story of what you do. They can address who you are, and implicitly, they should be about what you can bring to a university, be it in the classroom or the campus at large.
Don't shy away from topics that feel overly emotional, just make sure not to convey them in tired, cliched ideas. One essay cited in the Journal article, about a sibling that had died before the author was born, used a topic that was full of emotional pitfalls, but if the writer is willing to be honest and talk about how that living condition affected him as a person without using cookie-cutter descriptions, then there stands to be an enormous amount gained by the reader.
This article is a strong reminder that writing is difficult, and being interesting while avoiding cliche takes effort. Put your time in now - get started early - and remember that the college essay ought to be the piece of writing you do more revision on than anything you've ever written.
We're at the IECA Fall Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, this week and we invite you all to visit our booth and say hello! We're looking forward to meeting the many people we've emailed and spoken with throughout the year, and to meeting new faces, as well. We will also have special discounts for everyone who stops by, and one IECA member will win a FREE master account to be used this season or next!
It has been a terrific year for us at CEO, in large part because of IECA and its wonderful membership, and we're excited to be joining you in Ohio.
Hope to see you all this week!