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.”

Posted in College Essay Writing Tips | Comments Off on 5 College Essay Writing Mistakes To Avoid

The Common App and the Difference Between Online Applications & PDFs

Common App LogoAt College Essay Organizer we research college application requirements like it's our job. Actually, it is our job. And one of the odd sides of this job is that we are constantly finding inconsistencies between different versions of applications that schools put out, not to mention inconsistent or incorrect information explaining the application documents on the schools' sites.

One of the most notable disparities we've found is with the Common App itself. That's right, even the trusty old Common App has a significant difference between its paper (or PDF) version and its online version.

The paper version of the Common App calls for 150 words for it short essay, while the online version calls for 750 characters. The distinction is important, especially if you're running long, in which case the online version on the Common App will simply cut your writing off at the 750 character limit. So that 150-word essay can be significantly shorter if you're using big (some might say college-ready) vocabulary.

The Common App's short essay and optional space question are also worded differently. It's not a significant difference, though in many cases with colleges, different forms of college applications often feature different word counts, character limits, or even completely different questions! Just remember that College Essay Organizer is here to research these elements full time and contact the colleges to help resolve any confusion. So feel free to rely on us - it's our job.

Posted in In Action | Comments Off on The Common App and the Difference Between Online Applications & PDFs

Finding Your Authentic Voice (With Some Help From Your Fan Club)

Avery Educational Resources

Today's post comes courtesy
Erin Avery at Avery Educational Resources


Today's blog post is from Erin Avery, an independent educational consultant based in Fair Haven, New Jersey, who specializes in the college and boarding school search and application process. A graduate of Oxford and Yale, Avery is a Certified Educational Planner and creator of CollegeApp, available on the App Store. You can learn more about her and her services at averyeducation.com.

Ed. Consultant Erin Avery: “So, where geographically are you considering attending college?”
Son: “I don’t know…I was thinking of maybe an island.”
Father: “Yeah, Long Island.”

Yesterday, I sat beside a father and son duo, not unlike many cradled in the inner sanctum of my office’s worn leather armchairs. Often, as depicted above, parent and child come with divergent perspectives: rightfully so based on their respective worldviews and life experiences.

This is why I always welcome parents, guardians or other loving stakeholders to participate in the all-important Essay Brainstorming Session. The results are phenomenal. The invited “guests” act as time capsules, jogging the student’s memory of past notable examples of characteristics demonstrated, or character embodied. They may recall that precise anecdote that illustrates the quintessence of the student. Ultimately, if it is conducted properly, the essay brainstorming session is akin to a love-fest wherein the student hears and has mirrored back to him or her a chorus of voices affirming his or her unique gifts to the world.

In my role as an educational consultant, I have to admit, I am always scanning my conversations with you, my client, for “essay-worthy” content. I simply can’t help it. I have met myriad teens in my near decade of private practice. By employing my strength-based methodology, I passionately echo back to each student how incredible I find him or her. High school students never cease to astound me! While peers and society attempt to smother teens with the gag order of conformity, I bathe you in affirmation for your daily courage to choose to be yourself.

I have seen my share of Eagle Scouts, Congressional Medalists, National Merit Finalists, Point and Figure Charting experts, even oyster gardeners, and the accolades continue. Yet be mindful that the most profound essay topics need not be the most cataclysmic. At a symposium last spring, the New Jersey reader from GW shared, as she welled up with tears, that her favorite essay amid her applicant pool was written by a student portraying the profound impact on him of his parents’ 25-year marriage. (Her second favorite essay topic was on the sneaker-odor of the applicant’s car.) Your story can (and often must) be drawn from the quotidian, everyday seventeen year-old lived experience. Do not grant one instant to counterproductive feelings of inadequacy if you have not yet discovered a cure for cancer (but get on that, would you?). Rather, own who you are and where you are. If you are presently staring at a blank screen, go grab a decaf frappuccino with someone who loves you and if you are too embarrassed to ask them blatantly to sing your praises, ask him or her what s/he would say at your funeral (morbid, yes, but effective!). Still stumped? Google and read “The Desiderata”. Works like a charm.

Posted in Guest Bloggers | Comments Off on Finding Your Authentic Voice (With Some Help From Your Fan Club)

Senioritis And The Second Semester Of Your Senior Year

Don't let your senioritis get the best of you

Don't let your senioritis get the best of you. Finish those English classes.

Nothing like getting that fat envelope in the mail, is there? Nope, nothing like it at all. First thing that comes to mind for most is, "I'm done." Images of fleeing, running through a field, perhaps jumping a prison wall. Glory days.

Not so fast. You have so little high school left in front of you, but so much... other... school... things. Or as those of us not suffering from senioritis would say, you've got opportunities in front of you. Keep your eye on the prize and remember that with your academic courses especially, maintaining decent grades is essential for holding your place in any class formed in 2011.

While the odds of your having an offer rescinded are low - about one in a hundred and fifty, even at the more selective schools - if you represent yourself one way and turn in a final transcript that is significantly different, you can expect trouble. Just have a look at this statement about senioritis from the director of admissions at the University of Washington in Seattle:

"When they say, 'I'm taking a fourth year of language, I'm taking AP (Advanced Placement) this and AP that,' and when you see their final transcripts, it is underwater basket weaving and intro to breathing ... you wonder if you are on the same planet," said Admissions Director Philip Ballinger. "They don't look the same. You were duped."

So take it easy, but not quite that easy. Keep those APs going and your foreign language too. And pass those classes, friends.

Posted in College Admissions Tips | Comments Off on Senioritis And The Second Semester Of Your Senior Year

Save Time On College Essays And Applications With College Essay Organizer

50% off all Essay QuickFinder and Essay RoadMap

accounts for individuals during the month of December!

Simply enter the promo code senior9 when you purchase your account.

Many students think that by using the Common Application, they only need to write two essays. But in addition to the Common Application’s basic essays, most schools require multiple supplemental admission essays. Some applicants have never even heard of supplemental essays – which can make for a pretty rude awakening as deadlines approach.

The facts:

  • Submitting 7 college applications often requires more than 15 different admission essays.
  • Just finding and organizing your college essay questions can take several hours.
  • Many admission questions are hard to find, and some are not even located on the Common Application, especially the program-specific and scholarship questions.

CEO provides your essay questions in one place, instantly. We save you hours of work, keep you organized, and make sure you never overlook any essay questions.

We've put together a page explaining what Common App supplements are, and have provided a few examples of colleges that have them. For example, Yale has 2 required supplemental essays along with 5 short-answer essays. Some schools that have gone completely overboard: NYU has 3 required essays and as many as 27 program-specific essays.

With our FREE Essay RoadMap Preview page, you can discover how many essays your schools require.


Ready to get started? Click here to get your essay questions now for as little as $2!

Use the promo code senior9 for a 50% discount this month only!



What to Avoid in Your Application Essays

Yesterday we touched on some basic tips for improving your writing and making a lasting impression on over-worked admissions officers. Today we'd like to flip the script a bit and show you what not to do in your application essays.

These errors are all too common, and they're the kinds of things that can sink an application for good. Letting yourself be sloppy, cliched, repetitive, or negative won't just make your essays forgettable, they can even actively work against you, ruining whatever goodwill the rest of your application has engendered with the person reading it.

So without further adieu, make sure you never make these common mistakes:

  • Don't litter your essay with quotes from others
  • Don't go thesaurus-happy
  • Don't generalize or stereotype
  • Don’t use profanity or crass humor
  • Don't use stuffy language

Take a look at our more comprehensive list of writing styles to avoid and see what other kinds of common errors you can be sure to look out for.

Bad College Essay Topics For Your Applications

Sometimes knowing what not to do can be as useful as knowing what you ought to do. There are many essay topics that spring to mind quickly. These ideas can be enticing, too - in many cases they seem to almost write themselves... until you realize that they don't paint a particularly flattering portrait of you, or that the reason they sprung to mind so easily is that you've read essays just like them several times before.

Always look out for cliche! Avoid it like the plague, as well as essay topics that center themselves around your faults or around things that you are not, rather than things that you are.

Any advice about what not to do, of course, always comes with a grain of salt. There are always exceptions, so use this only as a guide. Just make sure that if you cover one of the following topics, you do so in a unique way that highlights your strengths:

  • Crime you've committed
  • Character flaws
  • Excuses for your shortcomings
  • The "Big Game"

This last one might surprise you - the big success at a sporting event is a common topic, and it talks about a positive, emotional event. So why not use it?

It often leads you down very well-worn paths without necessarily telling us much about what you will be able to bring to an academic or social environment. More often than not, these essays focus on one-off events that don't translate to your everyday life. But worse, they aren't memorable.

Picture an admissions officer reading through five hundred essays. Five. Hundred. Essays. How many of these feel the same? How many are about a success in a sporting event? Push further, past cliche and into the elements of who you are that are specific to you and what you do. Things no one else in your school can say.

There are many, many more. Take a look at CEO's list of college essay topics to avoid.

If you have more suggestions of good essay topics (or bad ones), we look forward to seeing them in the comments!

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.

Loving Lebron James Makes College Admissions Even More Fun!

Maybe after you get the acceptance letter you can think twice about getting the tattoo to match.

The University of Miami got a few new ways to recruit students this week - Lebron James and a few of his friends.

The King's decision caused us to pause and consider His Majesty's... shall we say... not so tactful way of revealing where he was headed. Let's compare it to the somewhat less prickly process of letting your family know which college you'll be attending. Yes! I said it! You will get in! Somewhere! After that initial joy wears off, take your tips from the Chosen 1:

1. Don't schedule an hour-long slot on prime-time television, no matter who asks for it. We understand you're going somewhere. We understand it is very, very important to you. And to many other people in your life. Even to people you have not yet met. But the process of telling people should take you fifteen seconds at best. Perhaps thirty when speaking to the elderly. An hour is pushing it for anything that can be safely squeezed inside a single sentence.

2. Don't surround yourself with children like you're Mother Theresa. You are not bringing wider peace to the populace. You are bringing academic potential and all the hard work of preparation that comes along with it. You are not, however, raising a city from the ashes. If, for example, you're going to college in, oh, say, southern Florida, remember that southern Florida has seen a lot and has done okay without you.

3. Don't tell people where you're about to "take your talents." We also understand how talented and wise you are. Just get in there and get those straight-As like your mama made you to. Just get in there and get 'er done. And if there is, oh, say, someone else who might have a leg (or six) up on you, pay them respect and just let everyone know about where you're headed quietly. A phone call, an email, even a press release to the proper media outlets, and you'll be fine.

Follow these three simple tips and it is highly unlikely that anyone will shove life-sized cutouts of you into the garbage face first. Better yet, very few people will set anything on fire with your name on it. Stay strong.

Amherst College Essay: A Little Help From Our Friends

All the leaves are something, something, something...

Fun Fact: This picture was taken in February. Amherst's physics department can change the weather locally.

Amherst College is a Common App-exclusive school, but unlike many of its peers, it has gone ahead and released its 2011 essay requirements to the general public. They're quite lengthy, so we won't reprint them here, but Amherst's decision to put them out ahead of the Common App's August update points out a few great things about top schools like Amherst and what its actions mean for other schools that follow.

1. The more open a school is with you, the more open you can be in return. By putting out such a complex series of questions early in the admissions season, Amherst is showing you that it's worth preparing to write your application essay. Amherst's questions are challenging, and they require quite a bit of thought. Go ahead and put in the time it takes. Write multiple drafts. Get it right.

2. You have more work ahead of you than you think. Amherst recognizes that senior years are busier than they get credit for. So take advantage of the time the school has afforded you by putting this info out ahead of time. With opportunities like this and tools like CEO, your workload can be a lot more manageable than, say, those of your overworked and underprepared friends.

3. The college essay is the most underrated and under-appreciated part of the application. The admissions officers at Amherst know what it's like to read half-baked and ill-conceived essays. Sure, they see writing from a lot of the top students in the country, but they also see it from people that have rushed themselves through a pile of applications, regardless of their grades and resumés. This is your opportunity to speak to the college - your chance to create something of a dialogue and show them who you are. Make the most of it.

If we were hard pressed to add a fourth element to this list, it would be that Amherst appreciates how many movies you have to watch this summer. That vampire flick ain't gonna watch itself. Thank the school for its foresight and watch all the movies. There are so many. Then fire up CEO and get back to work.