How To Handle The Open-Ended College Application Essay

Too Many Choices

You mean I can have any bag of lettuce? Any bag at all?
So many choices.

We have written about the style of the college essay many times here on CEO Blog. The form at its best is almost its own genre of writing – it is a combination of story telling, personal expression, and resume that demands a level of revision that most high schoolers are not used to.

There are all kinds of things that can make a writer freeze up when putting together a personal statement, but ironically, one of those things is having too many options. Many essay prompts, including the Common App’s long response, allow you to write on a topic of your choice, which is to say anything at all.

When you can write about anything, write about your passion.

Your passion won’t be the thing you think you’re supposed to write about, or the thing you think will be most impressive to the guidance counselor you are imagining, but it will be the thing that makes you sit up and say, “I can write about that.”

When you have that a-ha moment and recognize what you care about, your writing will actually improve. You will avoid cliché and, better yet, you will be able to write with detail that shows you understand the world you’re talking about. You will be able to invite the reader into an understanding of what you love and show why your involvement in it matters.

In short, you’ll be able to describe for the reader something about yourself that your resume doesn’t reflect as well as it could, and that’s the job of this piece of writing.

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Early Admission Application Rates for 2012

Harvard reinstated its early admission program this year.

As many of you know, the early admission deadlines for schools recently passed. For those of you anxiously waiting till December 15th when most results are posted, you can check out this chart of early admission application counts for top schools as well as last year’s early admission rates, published by The New York Times Choice Blog. You may notice a decrease in a few of the most selective schools due to this year's reinstatement of Early Admission programs at Harvard and Princeton.

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5 College Essay Writing Mistakes To Avoid

Now that you've all come out of your turkey-induced comas, let's get back to the matter at hand - finishing off all those college application essays you have hanging over your head. This kind of writing can be hard to kick-start, especially if you’re used to writing more academic essays, but hopefully with the guidance we've been able to give here on CEO blog, you'll be able to write memorable pieces without falling into the common traps. What common traps, you say? Funny you say that. We've got five common mistakes for you to avoid, listed here for your list-loving pleasure.

Dont Go Down This Road People

Don't go down this road, people. Please.

1. Don’t write a traditional 5-paragraph essay with a thesis, body, and conclusion. Take some risks with the structure and show your personality. Use the first person and just start writing. See what happens. You can pose a question or start with a distinctive opinion on a topic. Almost anything goes.

2. Don’t be gimmicky. We’ve all heard about the student who wrote his essay about his childhood years with a crayon and got accepted to every college. The likelihood of this being true is slim. It’s like communism: good in theory, impossible in practice. Let the substance of your writing be the real story.

3. Don’t come off as arrogant. This can be difficult, because part of what you’re trying to do with your personal essay is highlight something positive about yourself. But it’s one thing to call yourself awesome in your own essay and quite another to write about things you’ve done that show how awesome you clearly are. The old rule of writing applies here: show, don’t tell.

4. Don’t be cheesy. You shouldn’t come off like a bad Hallmark card. Let’s be serious. You’re not somebody who is so inspired by the beauty of the world you are brought to tears at the sight of a single flower. Come on. You know over-sentimentality when you see it, so keep it out of your essay.

5. Don’t use overly formal language. Applying to college is serious business, but that doesn’t mean that the tone and style of your essays need to be stuffy. Colleges are looking for personality and character, so relax when you start expressing yourself. Instead of writing something dry like, “I have come to this understanding according to certain factors that have influenced my life…” write something lively like, “During the summer of 2009, I was stalked by my literary hero.”

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Free College Application Help for 2011

No, it's not technically a Thanksgiving Day promotion, but if that helps you along, feel free to pretend like you're getting a Black Friday deal like no other.

College Essay Organizer's Essay QuickFinder is FREE for the remainder of 2011! Get access to every essay question you'll need to write this year, including supplemental, scholarship, optional, and program-specific questions you won't find on the Common App -- all organized in one place!

Get Started Today For FREE!

  1. Click here and create your Student account. It takes just a few seconds.
  2. Select "Essay QuickFinder - up to 20 colleges" under "Choose Your Services"
  3. Enter promo code blogfree1 and press tab - your Essay QuickFinder is free!

This offer applies only to high school seniors - no counselors. Each student gets only one free account.

Once you create your account, simply select your colleges and College Essay Organizer will do the rest!

All students who create their accounts will be eligible to enter our Best Essay Contest and win up to $500 cash!





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SAT II Scores Coming In For November 2011

For those seniors getting their SAT II scores today from the November exam, make sure to have your scores officially sent to your schools! Also, be sure to note the test date of your November exam on your Common Application. It is amazing how easy it can be to overlook simple things like this when managing so many applications at the last minute.

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College Application Essays: Pacing Yourself This Fall

Will you take a risk when you write your essays?

Chances are, your days are already pretty packed: classes, extracurriculars, seeing friends, spending time with family… and now applying to college on top of that. Senior year can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to writing your personal essays. And while you’ve certainly written essays on the Civil War, Einstein, or plant biology, a personal essay is a different animal. It can be time consuming and even emotionally draining, depending on your choice of topic. Make sure to pace yourself accordingly and keep that pile of college essay assignments manageable.

Make sure to set aside a little bit of time every day to work on your essay. It’s better to spend 20 minutes on it daily than 10 hours right before it’s due. You’ll find that visiting it every day will help your ideas flow and connect better, give you perspective on what you’ve already written, and reduce the chances of sloppy mistakes.

As for topic selection, instead of trying to brainstorm an essay that matches an existing question from your school of choice, try working backward. Think of a personal experience that moved you or changed you, then tailor that to answer the question. Let’s say you want to write about your experience playing the flute for the first time with a large orchestra. This story answers a lot of possible essay questions: what was a personal activity of special significance, or an accomplishment you are proud of—even an adversity you have dealt with. This one story can be tweaked into the many essays your colleges require.

It’s great to get feedback from a friend or a teacher on a draft you’ve written, but don’t overdo it. A common mistake is an essay written “by committee” – too many people have read it and the writer is trying to please too many different opinions. In the end, you’re left with an essay with all the life sucked out of it. Find one person you trust—preferably not a family member or friend—and let that individual be your sounding board.

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More Tips For Using the Common Application

Common App LogoWe've been running the gamut of issues that can arise while using the Common App this year. Here's another tidbit directly from the Common App themselves - and we should note that at College Essay Organizer, we've run into this one several times this year while working on college admission applications:

Last school forms tip of the week: When you are completing school forms for a student, make sure that you do not have any other Common App account sessions open in other tabs, windows, or browsers. Running multiple sessions concurrently can confuse the system, resulting in lost work when you try to save. For example, if you are a counselor who has created a test applicant account, make sure that you are not logged into that applicant account as you are working on school forms in your own school official account.

This basically means that you shouldn't keep multiple Common App windows open at the same time. It's very easy to try and fix something in one window, then return to a second window and realize that not only is the info from the first window not saved, but the work you've been doing in the second window isn't going to save either, because the Common App site can't figure out which page your account is currently trying to access. It'll probably end up booting you from the system back to the login page.

The moral of the story is to keep everything simple and to-the-point when you're working on your college apps! Slow and steady wins the race.

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College Essay Organizer at the IECA Conference in Dallas

We had a great time at the IECA Fall Conference in Dallas, TX! It was exciting to see so many of you face to face, and to encounter new members interested in learning more about College Essay Organizer. As promised, we also gave away a free CEO master account valued at $195 during the IECA raffle. Good times all around.

For those of you who weren't on hand for an in-person demo, you can email us at info@collegeessayorganizer.com anytime, and we can set up a time to walk you through it. IECA members are also entitled to one free student account per season, so please contact us if you have not already done so, so we can get you set up.

Thanks again to all of you who came by to introduce yourselves in person. Talking with our members enables us to keep making improvements, and lets us know that we are meeting your needs.

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Free 2011 College Application Help!

College Essay Organizer's Essay QuickFinder will be FREE for the remainder of 2011! Get access to every essay question you'll need to write this year, including supplemental, scholarship, optional, and program-specific questions you won't find on the Common App -- all organized in one place!

Get Started Today For FREE!

  1. Click here and create your Student account. It takes just a few seconds.
  2. Select "Essay QuickFinder - up to 20 colleges" under "Choose Your Services"
  3. Enter promo code blogfree1 and press tab - your Essay QuickFinder is free!

This offer applies only to high school seniors - no counselors. Each student gets only one free account.

Once you create your account, simply select your colleges and College Essay Organizer will do the rest!

All students who create their accounts will be eligible to enter our Best Essay Contest and win up to $500 cash!

If you have questions, call 646-448-4927 or email info@CollegeEssayOrganizer.com.





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New Early Action and Early Decision Deadlines Fast Approaching!

The November 15th deadline is nearly here - be sure to make sure your applications are filled out with proper punctuation and spelling throughout, and that you check our recent Common App-related posts to ensure proper delivery and formatting.

The early deadlines are always a big relief for everyone involved, but be sure to stay on the ball with the rest of your applications through the fall. There's still a lot to be done for your regular apps if you are denied from your top choice.

As we recently revealed, College Essay Organizer's Essay QuickFinder is now free! One of the best tools available for you this fall is now at your fingertips, and will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed as the rest of your apps come due. Use the QuickFinder to collect all your requirements for the rest of your applications in one spot and keep the rest of the process running smoothly.

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