December Guide for Seniors

For those seniors who are putting off their applications till the last possible minute, The New York TImes Choice Blog has posted some wise words here offered by David Burke, the director of college counseling at Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City, Mo.:

"Seniors: Let me start by saying, I feel your pain. Even though I tell myself every year that I won’t wait until the last minute to finish my tax returns, I just can’t make myself do them sooner. (Remind the adults in your life of this fact the next time they nag you about procrastinating on your college applications.)

But now that Thanksgiving and Black Friday are in the past, it really is time to get serious about applying to college if you haven’t already."

For those seniors who are finished, make sure to be appreciative of all those who have helped you get to where you are, be considerate of others still struggling through the process, and keep in mind that you still need to do well in your senior year classes.

For seniors who are anxiously waiting to receive early notifications, make sure that you have a backup plan in case you don't get in early, and start preparing those other applications!

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An Essay on Adversity

As juniors begin to turn their thoughts to the college application process looming in front of them, now is the time to start to generate ideas for a stand-out essay. There is no doubt that the essay has the power to set a student apart from the pack, and is often the most challenging part of applying to college.

To get your thoughts flowing in the right direction, we'll be posting a series of essays over the coming months on commonly asked essay questions. In the below essay, the student was responding to a question asking her to describe a personal challenge. She also used the same essay in modified form to address additional essay topics from other colleges on her list that asked about a life-changing experience, personal value,  and personal trait/individuality, among others:

I found out I had severe scoliosis when I was twelve, and suddenly, like my spine, my life became a twisted mess. I was told that if I didn’t wear a brace twenty-three hours a day for two full years, my spinal cord would shift and I would need surgery. In the beginning, I let my mother convince me it wouldn’t be that bad. However, my father, always the family realist, hid nothing in his reaction to the news: I was in for a horrible two years.

After two excruciatingly painful months, literally and metaphorically, I made a decision: I was not going to wear the brace. I was going to accept my physical fate, and work on being the Carly I knew I could be; whether I was standing straight or otherwise. I was well aware of the risk I was taking, but I also knew that I was prepared to assume responsibility for this choice.

As luck would have it, the curve in my spine did not get worse as I grew, though this was not something anyone could have predicted—a lucky twist in the tale, if you will. And though I was not left with a severely crooked spine, many questions remain: If I had worn my brace, would my back be straighter? Was I right to shun my brace, or was it stupid – a risky gamble and a mistake? I will never fully know the answers to these questions.

Resolution for me came through introspection and acceptance. I understand myself better as a result of this experience, as well as the world around me. I see that the cards I was dealt were not very bad in the grand scheme of things. Today, my scoliosis is rarely on my mind and I am at ease with myself once again. But I still have my brace. I keep it in the closet, because I never want to forget the experience. Once in a while, when trying to explain myself to a new friend, I pull it out. It never disappoints.

Three Ways to Make Your Application Essays Stand Out

Your excellent grades and SAT scores aren’t the only things you’ll need to get into the top school of your choice. You’ll also need application essays that reflect what an inquisitive and intelligent person you are. If you don’t spend much time on your essays, you can’t expect a college admissions board to spend much time considering your application, no matter how impressive your credentials are. Since application essays are kind of a big deal, writing them can be pretty nerve-wracking. We’d like to help decrease your stress levels by providing you with a little guidance when it comes to your essays. Here are three tips to help you write memorable, meaningful application essays that are sure to impress the bigwigs at your dream school:

1.  Give yourself a couple of days to think about an essay topic.

This will give you enough time to formulate exactly what you want to write about in your head. You may want to record ideas you have for essays in a notebook. Oftentimes, the best writing ideas won’t come to you when you’re sitting in front of the blank page on your computer screen. The best ideas may come to you when you’re eating breakfast or brushing your teeth before bed. If you spend a couple of days contemplating a topic and coming up with ideas, you’ll be prepared to write the best essay possible.

2. Avoid writing what you think people want to hear.

Your college application essays shouldn’t be anything like the papers you write for history class. There’s no right or wrong answer to an application essay question. It’s important to be yourself and express your independent ideas in your essays. Your essays are an opportunity for you to let college admissions boards know who you are. So, show off your personality and unique beliefs. Just remember to keep your essays appropriate and on topic.

3. Have someone you trust proofread your finished essays.

You could ask a friend, older sibling, or parent to take a look at your essays. You want the grammar and spelling in your essays to be perfect, and another person can help you catch any and all writing mistakes and errors.

College application essays are important, but you should do everything you can to stay calm while writing them. Take deep breaths if you need to, and don’t be afraid to express yourself!

About the Author: Carolyn Knight is a professional writer and guest blogger who writes about the higher education industry, registered nursing schools, and time management skills for students.

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Get Ready for Common App 4.0

Get ready for the new Common App

There is no doubt that the Common App has gone from relatively unknown to an almost mandatory pathway to applying to college in the past couple decades. The growth has been tremendous with 456 colleges currently accepting the Common App, and hundreds more poised to jump on board. This year alone, approximately 750,000 students have used the form to submit 3 million applications, a 25% increase from last year.

A recent article by Jacques Steinberg details the new system the Common App will be creating in order to accommodate future increases in traffic. According to Rob Killion, executive director of Common Application, “If we stick with the architecture of the current system through the end of the decade, with the growth we’re seeing, there would be delays during peak periods, for students and for our member colleges getting applications. This will all soon be groaning if we don’t do something now.”

Common App 4.0 aims to fix existing glitches including sections being truncated when an application is not previewed prior to submitting, or if too many characters are used in certain fields. Further, it will be capable of handling the continued growth which it is expected to receive including over 10 million applications filed to over 1000 schools.

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University of North Carolina State University - Raleigh 2011 Essay Requirements

North Carolina State University - RaleighNC State has a pile of optional requirements that can be evaluated for scholarship purposes, as well as many scholarship-specific questions that are separate from the school's regular application.This year, the school has 14 scholarship-relevant questions in all.

Among them are the Parks Scholarships Program, the Forestry and Environmental Resources (FER) Scholarship program, and the Wood Products Scholarship Program, each of which can be addressed in part by using your intellectual interests essay.

Remember that College Essay Organizer can be a prime tool for finding free money for college, because while we centralize the essay requirements you need for all your schools, we also include departmental and scholarship essays, many of which you can satisfy by turning in altered versions of your essays for other school applications.

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College of William And Mary 2011 Essay Requirements

The College of William and Mary

Campus of The College of William and Mary

In addition to the Common App's basic essay requirements, The College of William and Mary asks students to respond to an optional prompt that's wide open:

Beyond your impressive academic credentials and extracurricular accomplishments, what else makes you unique and colorful?

We know that nobody fits neatly into 500 words or less, but you can provide us with some suggestion of the type of person you are. Anything goes! Inspire us, impress us or just make us laugh. Think of this optional opportunity as show and tell by proxy and with an attitude, but please restrict your submission to what will fit on one sheet of paper.

These kinds of prompts should always be taken advantage of. Remember that the college essay is a vital opportunity to let the school know specific details about your background that the application itself won't reveal. You have precious few chances to let the school know about your side of "the deal" - those qualities you have that the school wants in its student body. Make sure to take them!

Even if you feel like you don't have a special extra curricular or professional experience that makes you stand out from the crowd, choose to focus on the things you love, and your passion for those subjects will shine through. Anything that improves the chances of the admission officer remembering you and your application is worth the effort.

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Lake Forest College 2011 Essay Requirements

Lake Forest CollegeThis year Lake Forest College outdoes itself with 15 essay requirements, many of which are multi-part and multi-page.

For example, the requirement for the Buchanan Social Justice Scholarship requires applicants to address all of these points:

  • What social justice issues are of concern to you and how you are personally involved in addressing those concerns?
  • What leadership position have you held within a social justice organization?
  • Have you attended a local, national, or international conference focused on a social justice issue? If yes, please share more about what you experienced.
  • Have you received any awards or recognition relative to your involvement in social justice issues?
  • Student leaders at Lake Forest often effect change and leave a legacy from their contribution to the College community. As you look forward to your educational experience at Lake Forest, what social justice issue will you champion and how will you effect change within our community or the world at large?

It might look like a lot of work at first, but using College Essay Organizer can be a shortcut to money you didn't know was there.

Each year we comb school websites not just for primary application requirements, but also for optional, department-specific, honors, and scholarship essays. Your College Essay Organizer Essay RoadMap can be your map to extra achievement, not to mention cold hard cash.

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Tulane University 2011 Essay Requirements

Tulane University has eleven essay requirements this year in the College Essay Organizer database. This year they made a significant change in their application scheme - last year some requirements appeared on the paper application but not the online app, and the school has made the wise decision to change that for 2011. Here are a few of the questions that were not consistent across the two formats last year:

  • Have you ever participated in a community service project abroad? Please explain your experience.
  • Have you ever studied abroad? Please explain your experience.
  • Have you ever been involved in a community service project other than one required by your school or another organization?  Please explain your experience.

These are the kinds of questions that give applicants an opportunity to stand apart from the pack a little bit, so Tulane's decision to present these questions to all applicants was the right choice. It works in the applicants' favor as well as the school's - after all, they want their student body to be as strong and diverse as possible, so no need to make it difficult on people who have these kinds of exciting elements to their backgrounds.

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Common Application Changes Word Count for 2011 Short Essay

Common App LogoJust a few days ago we blogged about the slight disparity in the Common App's word count versus character count limits for the short answer essay requirement. The difference was slight but significant - 150 words (in theory) was actually 750 characters (a hard limit), which meant for the potential of an ugly cut-off if your 150 words happened to be particularly long words.

The Common App has responded to this issue and changed its short answer requirement from 750 characters to 1,000 characters. We have updated our Common App settings at College Essay Organizer and adjusted the Essay RoadMap readouts to reflect this change.

It should also be noted that the Common App did not post an official notice of this fairly crucial change (they've increased the length requirement by a third without saying so!), but College Essay Organizer is on the case as usual.

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State University of New York Essay Questions 2011

State University of New York - SUNY LogoThe SUNY (State University of New York) schools have many specific differences, including certain essay questions, scholarship requirements, and the like. But they share this question in common:

Please provide additional information that will help us better understand your academic performance. You may also explain any chronological gaps in your academic history (e.g. a period of time after high school graduation before applying to college).

At first glance, this question seems like it could be an optional "tell us anything" prompt, or even a required "disciplinary" question, telling you to explain any suspensions, or run-ins with authorities that have disrupted your time in school. At College Essay Organizer, we recommend that anybody without the kind of disciplinary problems or "gaps" in the academic record use this prompt as an opportunity to discuss his or her intellectual interests.

We have discussed the intellectual interest essay here before on the blog, but most importantly, it is the piece of writing that tells the school why you are interested in what they can offer you, and what you bring to the table as a member of the student body. It is a chance to discuss your interests while also implying what you are good at and how you spend your time most effectively. It can be a chance to distinguish yourself from your peers in a unique way, which is something you should always be looking for opportunities to do.