Answering More Questions From Independent Consultants

This week we're featuring answers to fifteen frequently asked questions from Independent Counselors and other academic consultants about College Essay Organizer. Here's the last of the fifteen. If you have more questions, please let us know.

13. Is there anything that I can do to improve the format when printing the RoadMap results?

We have added functionality to remove any questions, which will reduce the length of your printed document as much as you choose. If you are copying and pasting into a Word document, you can reduce the amount of space between lines by making sure the document is single-spaced with zero paragraph spacing before and after each line (look for this setting in the Alignment and Spacing section of the formatting palette). If you have further questions about formatting your RoadMap for your students and their families, please just send us an email and we'll be happy to help you out.

You may want to consider giving your clients access to their CEO accounts, rather than printing out reports, as many consultants have found that sharing CEO with their clients serves two key purposes: first, it validates the need for your services, as CEO demonstrates the sheer magnitude of the essay process; second, it delivers a clear plan that parents can follow if they wish and empowers students to work more efficiently and proactively on their own.


14. Will you be adding essay questions for transfer students?

We don't have enough demand for transfer applicants at this point in time. Most students who want to transfer typically apply to only one or two specific colleges, making CEO less useful to them.


15. Do you value customer service?

We place great value on our customers, and provide quick and accurate responses to all inquiries. We are always available by email and phone to further discuss how we can improve your experience if you feel anything is in need of improvement.

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Answering More Questions From Independent Consultants

This week we're featuring answers to fifteen frequently asked questions from Independent Counselors and other academic consultants about College Essay Organizer. Here's the next bunch, and if you have more questions, please let us know.

11. Is there always a word or character count listed for every essay?

We always include the listed word or character limit for each question if it is provided on the application. Instances in which essay lengths are listed as "Short space provided" (or something similar) refer to physical limits on a paper application. When there are discrepancies between the stated lengths of questions in the online and paper applications, CEO lists the questions for the online application.


12. How useful are College Essay Organizer's essay samples?

We post what we deem to be "very strong" essays. We have found that posting truly exceptional essays intimidates students who are poor writers or are uncomfortable writing about themselves. We'll be adding more samples this year, which should give your students a broader range of essay topics to review.

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Answering More Questions From Independent Consultants

This week we're featuring answers to fifteen frequently asked questions from Independent Counselors and other academic consultants about College Essay Organizer. Here's the next bunch, and if you have more questions, please let us know.

7. I found that I did not use the RoadMap as much as I could have. Do you have any suggestions to help me make better use of it?

The RoadMap provides a suggested plan for organizing your essay questions and shows the overlapping themes among your essays. But one of its best features is that it provides as many topic options as possible for each essay that the student needs to write. Take advantage of this flexibility! It is ultimately up to the independent consultant and the student to relate the student's life to the broad themes addressed by the essay questions. But choose your topics carefully and specifically. It will make the writing process quicker and simpler, and increase the quality of the essays.

We are always improving the RoadMap's functionality and ease of use. We have greatly simplified the layout of the RoadMap, and have added note-taking and essay uploading features to make CEO your one-stop source for guiding students through the essay writing process.

If you would like to go over these upgrades individually, or find out how to optimize your clients' experience using CEO, please let us know and we'll arrange a private demo with Dan Stern, our president. We're confident you'll find that the new and improved CEO will guide students more clearly and successfully.


8. Will you be adding any additional tutorials for independent consultants?

We will be including additional resources to help new users this coming season, including live webinars that explain how to best use CEO and that cover various essay topics. We will also include materials you can share with clients that allow them to optimize their CEO experience. Though these additions aren't required to use CEO or understand its benefits, they can help improve the experience for all.


9. Is it possible to buy only the QuickFinder for my clients?

We do not currently offer QuickFinder-only accounts through the Master Account platform.


10. Why not?

We have developed the RoadMap around the QuickFinder format, allowing the RoadMap to function as a flexible, modifiable QuickFinder. Now that we've added an essay-sharing platform to make communication between you and your students even easier, CEO has become a one-stop shop for the college essay writing process. We see the RoadMap as the core of that experience. The overwhelmingly positive feedback regarding the RoadMap, as well as the upgrades that make the RoadMap even easier to interpret now, makes clear that this is the best approach for our users.

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Answering More Questions From Independent Consultants

This week we're featuring answers to fifteen frequently asked questions from Independent Counselors and other academic consultants about College Essay Organizer. Here's the next bunch, and if you have more questions, please let us know.

4. Students often choose not to apply to schools on their original lists. Will it be possible to make changes to the list of schools for each student?

We have added 5 additional college selections per student account to grant even more flexibility. Each account now allows a maximum of 20 college selections. The RoadMap allows for colleges to be selected and de-selected, and will automatically provide an updated essay writing plan based on the student's most current list.


5. How can College Essay Organizer enhance independent consultants who pride themselves on their 'high-touch' services?

CEO is designed to increase the quality of 'high-touch' services. Researching and organizing essay questions on your own (or having your clients do it) wastes valuable time and opens up the possibility of overlooking program-specific, optional, and scholarship questions, which are usually not included on schools' regular applications or the Common App.

With CEO, speed and accuracy are taken care of, and you can focus your energies on high-level essay responsibilities like brainstorming the best topics and editing drafts. This optimizes the real value you bring as a consultant and eliminates the tedious, time-consuming work involved in looking up essay questions and designing a personalized essay plan.

Our new note-taking and essay uploading features will make this process even easier, allowing you to use CEO as your one-stop source for the college essay process.


6. How can I be sure that College Essay Organizer's data will be updated quickly and accurately?

We consider accuracy our top priority. Occasionally there will be a slight delay between the time an essay questions is made available by a college and when it appears on our site, but we closely monitor all the universities in our database and upload their essay questions as soon as they have been released publicly and verified by our staff.

Our stellar track record for speed and accuracy speaks for itself, and this season we will work even harder to ensure that new essay questions are uploaded as early as possible.

Unfortunately, university admissions departments do not always post accurate information. In 2010, many colleges posted essay questions that contradicted different versions of their own applications. Ultimately, CEO helped to resolve these issues for its users, and for the colleges who were unaware of their discrepancies. We plan to have even more researchers this year to ensure greater speed and accuracy.

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We Answer Questions From Independent Consultants

This week we'll be featuring answers to fifteen frequently asked questions from Independent Counselors and other academic consultants about College Essay Organizer. Here's the first bunch, and if you have more questions, please let us know.

1. Is College Essay Organizer appropriate for all students?

CEO is a time-saving tool regardless of where a student is applying. It instantly delivers all of the questions for any student's selected schools -- and for students applying to schools with few or no essay questions, CEO helps them confidently know that a certain college does not have any essay questions, as sometimes it takes hours of looking to determine this.

Moreover, many colleges that don't have required supplemental essay questions for traditional applicants do have required questions for students applying to specific programs or departments. Most students are not aware of this, find out too late, and end up rushing to write mediocre essays in order to make their deadlines.

Finally, an increasing number of universities, especially state schools, offer a multitude of scholarship essay questions that appeal to all demographics, even those who do not require financial aid. CEO now features hundreds of such questions, and the list is growing.


2. Can you help me place a value on College Essay Organizer?

Based on our research, the value of CEO far exceeds our current price point. With CEO, consultants save several hours per student, which means much less work required for the same number of billable hours. During the busy application season, this means your efficiency in setting up new clients skyrockets.

In fact, many consultants have found that if they share a sample CEO report with potential clients, it often convinces clients that they could not possibly manage this process on their own without enduring excessive stress and confusion.

CEO also finds program-specific essays that aren't included in schools' applications or on the Common App -- these questions tend to get overlooked or are discovered late in the game. Rather than spending hours seeking these out or losing your credibility when clients recognize that you've failed to address them, you can have them all delivered instantly through CEO.

CEO also provides a multitude of scholarship essays that can mean thousands of dollars in additional money for applicants.

With our new feature that allows you and your clients to upload and edit essay drafts within the CEO platform, you won't have to email multiple drafts back and forth for multiple students.

The alternative to using CEO is researching all the questions on your own or assigning this task to your clients, which may lead to incomplete and inaccurate results, not to mention frustrated students and parents. It also means resorting to the cumbersome process of emailing drafts back and forth dozens, even hundreds of times.

We offer various promotional discounts via our partner sites throughout the year and post new discount codes on our blog regularly, giving you many opportunities to make CEO an even more valuable part of your business.


3. What new features have been added to College Essay Organizer?

Our recent upgrades include making the RoadMap so much easier to interpret, adding note-taking and essay uploading features, and providing a checkbox that allows you to know whether or not an essay has been completed. We have also enhanced site speed overall.

We will also be holding weekly webinars for members, covering various essay topics, guidance on how to make the most of CEO accounts, and Q&A for answers to specific questions.

Finally, all independent consultants who are CEO members will be able to guest blog on our heavily trafficked site, expanding their reach to potential new clients.

If there is ever anything that you would like to see added to CEO, please let us know. Your feedback drives us to be better!


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Our Answers To Your Questions

We hope this clarifies the benefits of College Essay Organizer. Contact us directly if you have questions of your own.

1. I’m not sure I can afford College Essay Organizer.

Based on feedback from our members, the value of College Essay Organizer far exceeds our current price point. With our web tool, consultants save several hours per student, which means much less work required for the same number of billable hours. During the busy application season, this means your efficiency in managing clients and setting up new ones skyrockets.

In fact, many consultants have found that if they share a sample College Essay Organizer report with potential clients, it often convinces the families that they could not possibly manage this process on their own without enduring excessive stress and confusion. In this sense, College Essay Organizer helps you generate additional revenue.

College Essay Organizer also finds program-specific essays that aren't included in schools' applications or on the Common App—questions that tend to get discovered late in the game or overlooked altogether. Rather than spending hours seeking these out or losing credibility when clients recognize that you've failed to address their particular needs, you can have all essay questions delivered instantly. You’ll also discover a multitude of scholarship essays that can mean thousands of dollars in additional money for applicants.

The alternative to using College Essay Organizer is researching all the questions on your own or assigning this task to your clients, which may lead to incomplete or inaccurate results, not to mention frustrated students and parents. It also means resorting to the cumbersome process of emailing drafts back and forth dozens of times. College Essay Organizer typically pays itself off in time saved after one or two clients, all while increasing the professionalism of your practice.

2. I'm not sure how to purchase College Essay Organizer for my clients.

There are three simple ways to purchase College Essay Organizer:

- Option 1: Purchase a Master Account here and absorb the cost as an operational expense. You can see the low-cost group rates on that page. You can then decide whether or not to share the accounts with your students or simply use College Essay Organizer on your end. It all depends on how you want to work with each student. The simple options will be explained once you create your account.

- Option 2: Purchase a Master Account here at the low group rate and bill the cost into your fee structure. For example, you can explain to clients that ordinarily you would bill 3 hours for this sort of research and management, but using College Essay Organizer will save you time and allow you to work smarter, and will save the clients money and allow them to work smarter too. If your clients created College Essay Organizer accounts on their own, the rate for an Essay RoadMap would be $49 per student. However, since you are paying only, say, $34 per student account at your independent consultant rate, you could bill the client $40, thus covering your expenses and then some. The alternative is to spread yourself too thin on time, forgo using an efficient management tool, and deprive your clients of the ability to access this cutting-edge technology that tens of thousands of competitive applicants (and likely your competition) are already using.

You can then decide whether or not to share the accounts with your students or simply use College Essay Organizer on your end. It all depends on how you want to work with each student. The simple options will be explained once you create your account.

- Option 3: Purchase accounts through CollegePlannerPro for $39 each.

3. I’m not sure whether to let my students access their accounts or to use College Essay Organizer simply as a resource on my end.

Your choice depends on how you run your practice and on each individual client.

You can choose to keep College Essay Organizer to yourself, referencing each client’s report on your own. You can essentially use College Essay Organizer like an accountant might use TurboTax, as a tool that optimizes your time and productivity.

You can experiment and share College Essay Organizer with a few of your stronger students. For example, you can go over the essay plan with a student together. If the student has a diversity essay that will work for multiple questions, you can brainstorm with the student what diversity means to her and help her craft that piece. You can then help her see how that finished essay can be used for various questions, with some modification if needed. And then you can move on to the next essay together. As the process unfolds, the student becomes more independent.

You can immediately share College Essay Organizer with all clients, making clear that this website will save them hours of time and ensure a much smoother, more successful writing experience. Many consultants recognize from the start that their students are naturals at using online technology. Teens intuitively understand College Essay Organizer just as well as a professional and appreciate having this tool at their disposal. They often feel empowered with College Essay Organizer’s clear, personalized plan and thus work more proactively on their essays. If you choose to share College Essay Organizer with all your clients, you can then of course use it as your one-stop website for the entire essay process. You'll also find that letting clients access College Essay Organizer demonstrates the value of having a professional guide, for they see how time-consuming and complex the process is (“it’s not just a couple essays anymore!”). Most parents and students are not aware of College Essay Organizer on their own, so they’ll be glad you use this cutting-edge technology in your practice. Plus, College Essay Organizer hardly replaces your role; your greatest asset is helping students brainstorm the essay topics that work best for them and helping them bring out their most compelling voices.

4. I don’t have many clients.

Businesses only grow when owners have the time to focus on the big picture, instead of organizational or managerial details. Technology makes that possible. It’s like using Google instead of driving to the library. College Essay Organizer eliminates hours of tedious and frustrating work, elevating consulting practices to new levels of efficiency.

If you have only 5 clients, your total cost for College Essay Organizer accounts will be $195, minus any association discount or free accounts you are entitled to. If you are billing your clients $50 per hour, that is just over 3 hours of billing time (and if you bill a higher hourly rate, it could work out to less than one hour of billing time). For this low cost, you will save hours in tedious research and organizational confusion, work much more efficiently, free up your days to focus on growing your business and providing even better service, and ensure a level of accuracy and professionalism that is very hard to provide on your own.

Many consultants also find that sharing College Essay Organizer accounts with each client validates the client’s decision to hire the consultant. Too many parents still believe that the essay process entails only one or two personal statements. Seeing the multitude of essays, including scholarship opportunities, allows them to appreciate the complexity of the process and the importance of your expert guidance.

Perhaps most importantly, many independent consultants have found that College Essay Organizer has allowed them to grow their business. After all, it frees up their time to focus on business development and demonstrates to clients that they are using the top technology in their profession.

Good word of mouth starts with using the right tools and knowing how to make them work for you.

5. I can do this research and organizational work on my own.

In our experience as admissions advisors, we found that manually collecting and organizing the essay questions took about 2 hours for each applicant—more if the student was applying to specific programs or had hard-to-find essay requirements. As students added and dropped colleges, we were forced to re-conceptualize their essay plans and determine if their previous essay topics were still sufficient. It’s just too time consuming.

In the midst of a hectic fall, would you pay $200 to save yourself, say, 20 hours of work?

Independent consultants have stressed-out clients, who naturally make the job demanding. College Essay Organizer is designed to make your work simple and efficient, while cutting out redundant work, stress, and anxiety.

6. I worry that letting my clients know about College Essay Organizer will make them think they don't need my guidance.

College Essay Organizer is not a substitute for your expert insight and personal touch. It is an easy-to-use management tool that will allow you to optimize the time you spend with clients. Think of it as TurboTax or QuickBooks. Those programs hardly replace your accountant; instead, they prevent your accountant from wasting his time focusing on tedious details and frees up his time to address the more important issues. Independent consultants who share College Essay Organizer accounts with their clients often report nothing but positive feedback from both students and parents who find that they have a clearer sense of what's involved and better appreciate your support after seeing how time-consuming and complex the essay process can be.

7. The applications really aren't that hard to figure out on my own.

College Essay Organizer instantly finds all essay questions for any selected colleges and displays them in one place, saving you from the piles of paper, PDFs, and logins for non-Common App colleges. We also alert you as soon as applications are made available, saving you the time it takes to check and re-check colleges’ sites and supplements.

But even if you find the applications simple to navigate, consider the amount of legwork College Essay Organizer does for you. We're tracking down the questions that aren't included on the applications themselves, like the optional, departmental, program-specific, and scholarship questions. We also note application deadlines, including those for specific programs within colleges. That kind of work is time consuming for any practice, and we can tell you from experience, some colleges can take hours.

8. The applications don’t change from year to year.

Some colleges keep their essay requirements static from year to year, but the majority changes them yearly, sometimes in small ways, but often to completely different prompts. Colleges have also recently been adding more and more questions. The problem is that you can't know which ones will change and which ones won't—so without an alternative, you’d have to check them all individually. College Essay Organizer provides up to date requirements as soon as they're available—all in one place, instantly.

College Essay Organizer also addresses each college's department-specific, program-specific, and special applicant questions, which can be much harder to find, and which many applicants don't even know to look for. College Essay Organizer also provides numerous scholarship essay questions.

As a member, you can register for our email notification system and be alerted as soon as the essay requirements for any college are updated for the coming season.

9. Some of the colleges my clients apply to don’t have (m)any essay questions.

Just because a college does not require any essays doesn’t mean you know that from the start. You still have to look, and even then it’s hard to be sure since colleges rarely post their program-specific, departmental, or scholarship questions on their applications or the supplements.

Most colleges changed their essay questions last year, or added new ones. You can check them all again manually, or let College Essay Organizer provide them for you instantly.

If you don’t think students have many essays to write, we encourage you to contact us for a free trial account. You’re in for a surprise.

10. My students are responsible for researching all their essay questions.

Leaving this to your students is a recipe for disaster. Inevitably they procrastinate and then fail to be accurate and/or thorough, overlooking many questions, especially the program-specific and hidden questions. We used to assign this task to students until we got tired of having parents complain that we were outsourcing responsibility that we were paying for, and making their children even more stressed and confused. If you want to be a professional, you cannot let your clients manage this time-consuming, frustrating task. Using College Essay Organizer is the difference between being a good consultant and an exceptional one.

11. I guide clients just through the Common App essays and let them manage their supplemental essays on their own.

Clients are paying you to be an effective guide. By helping with only one or two essays and leaving the rest to them, you run the risk of making your clients feel as if you didn’t help them at all, even if you did an excellent job on everything else. You also run the risk of creating a disparity between the essays you’ve advised them on and the rest of their writing, which can cause the application to feel inconsistent.

Using College Essay Organizer and showing the reports to your clients is a great way to either convince them to utilize your services for the entire essay process or provide them a clear plan for finishing up on their own.

New referrals come when your clients feel like you chaperoned them through the entire process and led them to their destinations smoothly and successfully, instead of leading them only halfway there.

12. I don’t guide my clients through the college essay process.

Leaving the essays entirely to your clients after helping them with other key aspects of the admissions process is a bit like guiding them deep into the Amazon jungle and letting them find their way out on their own. After all, the college essay process is typically the most time-consuming and stressful part of the application experience. By providing your clients with College Essay Organizer accounts or contacting us to ask for discounts on behalf of your students, your clients will feel like you gave them the necessary tool for completing the application process smoothly and successfully.

Even if you choose not to work with them on their writing, providing an easy, inexpensive tool for them to cut down on their workload will reflect well on your practice.

13. I don't bill my students for finding and organizing the essay questions.

If you're not billing your students for tracking and organization, then College Essay Organizer is especially right for you. Why spend hours on things you don't expect to be paid for? Our web tool instantly saves you the time it takes to search for, find, organize, and store the application questions, freeing up hours to grow your business and focus on high-end responsibilities.

14. How can I trust a third-party to ensure the level of accuracy that I expect?

Accountability is a challenge we are up to. Our track record is impeccable, and you have access to our staff by email and by phone. The fact that we are a broad-service, third-party company actually makes our standards higher than your own. We are being held accountable not by just a few clients but by tens of thousands of users worldwide, not to mention some of the most elite and demanding high schools in the country.

15. Putting a brand on my work that isn’t my own doesn’t sound right to me.

You don’t have to share these accounts with your clients. Keep the database to yourself and utilize it as you see fit. Provide the information as printouts to your clients and use it only as a tool for managing the information on your end. Like a professional accountant using TurboTax, your use of College Essay Organizer assures your clients that they’re getting a high level of professionalism and efficiency.

Plus, you can co-brand your accounts so students see your company logo when logged into their accounts. Many consultants then find that sharing College Essay Organizer with their clients validates their decision to hire a professional. It shows clients how overwhelming the essay process really is, and that you know how best to deal with it. This kind of competence and forward-thinking drives positive word of mouth.

16. I want just the essay questions, not the Essay RoadMap.

Independent consultants cannot purchase accounts without the Essay RoadMap. We have integrated the Essay Questions page into the RoadMap so that College Essay Organizer is an even more robust, flexible service for consultants. With the RoadMap, you get all the optional, program-specific, special applicant, and scholarship questions that are not listed on the Essay Questions page. Plus, you’ll benefit from the RoadMap’s groundbreaking algorithm, which was recently updated for greater accuracy and modified so you can override any essay assignments – this way you have all the control the lay out the RoadMap however you want.

Plus, now that we've added an essay-sharing platform to the RoadMap to make communication between you and your students even easier, College Essay Organizer has become a one-stop shop for the college essay writing process. We see the RoadMap as the core of that experience. The overwhelmingly positive feedback regarding the RoadMap, as well as new upgrades and a sleeker, more user-friendly design, makes this the best approach for our independent consultant members. Most skeptics, after using the RoadMap, realize that the essay questions are simply the ingredients, whereas the RoadMap is the ingredients plus the crucial recipe.

17. I'm more interested in helping my students find scholarship money for college.

Our extensive database of more than 1,000 scholarship essays is delivered along with your regular essay questions at no extra cost! This is especially helpful with large state schools. With so many programs and special departments, these universities provide a multitude of chances at scholarship money, but most students don’t know where to find it. These include merit-based, need-based, and demographic-based scholarships. Your clients will greatly appreciate that you pointed these out for them.

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What Can You Expect When You Take the SAT?

Not the most exciting thing to look forward to...

For juniors, spring is the most popular time to take the SAT, followed by another round of testing in the fall if necessary. So as seniors are making their final calculations on which school has the greatest merit, juniors are nose deep in SAT prep books and practice tests.

No matter how much time you have spent preparing, there is always that anticipatory anxiety, and one item on everyone’s mind, as this informative article suggests, is the essay section. The mid-march SAT launched an unexpected essay prompt with a focus on pop culture leaving many with mixed feelings. While some felt it was a step in a positive direction allowing the test to appeal to its teenage audience, others had a quite different reaction:

“There was a hue and cry that the question put some of the best students at a disadvantage because they were often too busy with other, worthier pursuits to be watching Snooki and The Situation. Some students complained they'd been blindsided.”

According to the College Board, which creates and administers the test, the topic was broad enough to encourage good writing, and the essay itself is much less about the topic than it is about the quality of writing. Michael Kuchar, the superintendent of schools and guidance director at Bergenfield High School, states that you can still do well without any knowledge of the topic as long as you follow the right recipe which includes four paragraphs: a thesis, two supporting paragraphs, and a summary which refers back to the question.

As you cram in those last days of study, remember that while there is no way to predict the questions in advance, knowing the formula that the test makers are looking for will give you an advantage.

New York Times Reports on 2011 College Admissions Figures

New York Times College AdmissionsOver at the New York Times' The Choice, a great chart of up-to-the-minute admissions figures has been made available, and it makes clear that the trend of applying to many schools is showing no signs of letting up.

There are a number of caveats that they point out in the write-up under the chart, most notably that the budgets for advertising schools' applications have been increasing as well. The schools are in the business of increasing the number of applicants just as much as the students are in the business of hedging their bets by applying to more than ten schools a piece.

But what does that mean to you?

Notice that certain schools' acceptance rates dropped significantly from 2010 to 2011 without their academic metrics (like accepted student GPA or SAT scores) improving at the same level. These are schools that have found effective ways of boosting the applicant pool and driving down the acceptance rate without necessarily increasing competition for qualified students.

So it's not as much doom and gloom as you might think. If the schools are making an effort to increase the applicant pool without necessarily increasing the pool of applicants that deserve to be at the school, you are going to appear just as competitive as you would have in previous years, despite the increasing number of applicants. More than anything, you'll need to be focused on efficiency and making sure your pile of applications isn't overwhelmed by the typical homework you have to do in the first semester of your senior year. Get organized!

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Writing College Admission Essays Is Hard

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.

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New York Times Cites Problems With Guidance Counselors

Even the best get a little... hold on... wait... uh, busy.

Even the best get a little... hold on... wait... uh, busy.

Our friends at the New York Times has published an article on a recent study showing that most people who graduated from high school in the last dozen years thought their guidance counselor was unable to provide useful advice on their college decision, with a large percentage feeling that the help offered was impersonal.

Also cited in the article was the sobering statistic that the American School Counselor Association considers a student:counselor ratio of 100 to 1 as 'optimal,' but that the average nationwide is 265:1, with schools in California shooting up over 1,000:1.

We should read this as evidence that the people tasked with providing the kind of organization and optimization that today's college application process requires are understandably overwhelmed by the task much of the time. And who can blame them? Much of a guidance counselor's time is eaten up with in-school requirements, scheduling conflicts, and even disciplinary issues that have nothing to do with helping to plan college experiences for their students.

So for students, try to make your time with your counselor count - and know that they aren't necessarily going to have the resources to organize your work for you, nor are they necessarily going to be able to plan your meetings in advance in a way that will optimize the experience for both of you.

Make sure that the preliminary, basic work of organization and management of your tasks is taken care of automatically, and try your best to mine your guidance counselor's considerable knowledge of university specifics and different opportunities, rather than just focusing on "what you have to do to get these applications done." You'll be much better served the sooner you can get to the upper-level discussions your guidance counselor is qualified to have with you. And he or she will be a lot happier, more grateful, and eager to do so.

For guidance counselors, remember that there are tools out there that may seem cost-prohibitve at first, but ultimately save your school money through greater efficiency. Using CEO as a management tool, for example, makes your job easier, cuts anxiety for all involved, and helps you keep on top of where your students' applications stand without a single piece of paper to keep track of.

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