Expert Advice on Writing Those Supplemental Essays

Hopefully, you've gotten a head start on writing your Common App main essay over the summer, and you're focusing more on your supplemental essays now. But whatever your situation, the first step should be organization. If College Essay Organizer is supplied by your school, then you're all set there! It will display all of your essay questions in one place instantly showing how the topics overlap, a step recommended by former Dean of Admissions at Columbia and Harvard turned admissions consultant in this post.

Other important tips shared focus around how you, one of the thousands of applicants, can stand out, especially in the supplemental essays which normally center around why you want to go to a particular school. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Think outside the box: Find a creative way to present your case that breaks the monotony of an admissions counselor's job.
  2. Pinpoint your most unique qualities: Highlight something about you and your goals that are different than everyone else's.
  3. Create a narrative: A good story will grab a counselor's attention and be more memorable.
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College Essay Tips

TIP 1 - Program-Specific Questions Are Good For You:  While the many program-specific questions seem daunting, they help you discover different programs that may appeal to you and even help you get accepted -- and for some reason these essay questions are almost never even mentioned on the Common App. For instance, maybe you never considered applying to Cornell's School of Hotel Administration, but after seeing that program's essay questions on College Essay Organizer, you realize that this program might not only be right up your alley but also is going to help you gain the competitive admissions edge because of your special talents and background related to the hospitality industry.

TIP 2 - Optional Means Opportunity:  When a college asks you a question and says it's optional, think of it like a parent asking you to do your chores; you don'thave to do them, but if you don't, you're probably not going to get the keys to the family car that weekend. Optional questions present you with the opportunity to convey your passions and interests to people eager to learn more about you. Use such space wisely, and it can make all the difference.

TIP 3 - A Problem Well Organized Is A Problem Half Solved:  You can spend several hours organizing all your essay questions in one clear document (which you know you'll never actually do) and hope that you locate all the hard-to-find supplemental, program-specific, optional, and scholarship questions —and then try to figure out how many original essays you need to write (and on which topics) to make this a quick and simple process. Or you can get started now for FREE and letCollege Essay Organizer do it for you instantly. You're applying to college now — time to start using your brain.

Writing a Great College Essay: Opening Lines, Humor, and Adjectives

Stop thinking and start writing!

College admissions officers read thousands upon thousands of college essays each year. Memorable? Not always. But yours can be! If you’re lacking an incredible, life-altering experience to impress the admissions officers, not to worry. Remember: everyone’s life is unique and filled with anecdotal treasures and moments that are bound to tickle a curious admissions officer. Colorful language and style can enliven anyone’s personal experience. Enticing opening lines, humor, and adjectives are three techniques to keep in mind when writing an essay.

  • Opening Lines: Nothing grabs a reader quite like the opening line of an essay. Open with a thought-provoking question, an exciting exclamation, or an enlightening description. The admissions officer will want to continue reading your essay if the first line is intriguing.
  • Humor: Approach with caution! Remember: you are not writing a comedy sketch for a light-hearted audience; these officers mean business! But splashes of humor here and there, in, say, a description or personal reaction, can add color to an essay.
  • Adjectives: To be added gingerly! Do not fill your essay with ostentatious adjectives (think supercalafragalistic…) but do add appropriate, zesty adjectives where necessary. It may bring a smile to an officer’s face!

For more great tips, see this blog by Lynn O’Shaughnessy.

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The Importance of August

Shereem Herndon-Brown is the Founder and President of Strategic Admissions Advice, LLC. He is a former Admissions Officer from Georgetown University, college counselor at three private schools and Director of Middle and Upper School Admission. An Associate Member of IECA, he has clients around the country particularly in New York City, Atlanta and Dallas. http://www.strategicadmissionsadvice.com

Although there is no immediate application deadline looming, August is an intense month in our industry. With the Common Application becoming available and colleges releasing supplements, we are bombarded with “start now!!” The anxiety surrounding the college application process is upon us and, rightfully and respectively so, many of us want our kids to start early. Waiting until when school starts is dangerous and should be avoided. Too often we allow our kids to wait, and with the possibility of fall standardized testing, the inevitability of quizzes or papers on summer reading and, naturally, the emotional ups and downs of leaving home in twelve short months, the school year becomes hectic and unnecessary stress ensues.

For me, August marks the time that kids have to get serious. Whether or not they drafted a personal essay last spring or in July, there is no denying that they must do it now. Couple that with Early Decision, Early Action and Rolling deadlines a mere ten to fourteen weeks away, and I want them to be proactive and gearing up for the ride.

Having clients in New York City means 16-hour workdays for the next three months. Almost all of my students will have an early-something deadline. From August through October, I meet with students, review applications and writings online and have daily “calming” phone calls to soothe parental nerves.

Admittedly though, I am excited for this time of year. I desperately want my enthusiasm and energy to be contagious. I encourage my students to use this month, this last glimmer of late sleeping and long evenings, to create application accounts and enter in basic data while watching an evening baseball game. Once they do that I suggest that they can leave a printed copy of the CEO-produced supplemental essays on their kitchen tables and let their parents suggest ideas for questions like “Tell us about an experience in which you left your comfort zone. How did this experience change you?” (University of Richmond). And finally, I implore them to brainstorm, outline and write multiple drafts of the all-important personal essay without the hovering thought of a Physics Lab or TS Eliot paper.

I want my students to flourish within this process and learn more about who they are and which schools can help them to achieve their goals. I think August and not procrastinating can foster this. Will they produce final drafts of essays? Probably not, but starting now versus on October 10th with a November 15th deadline is preferable any day of the week.

2011 Admissions Statistics Released for Top Colleges

Are you glad the game is over?

By now you’ve most likely heard from your colleges, and if you’re reading this, it means that you’ve survived. Regardless of the results, congratulations on simply making it through the arduous college admissions process! No matter how you fared, you probably have lots of mixed emotions right now, and understandably so. The application process continues to become more and more competitive with each coming year.

This article by Jacques Steinberg of the New York Times will give you an overall picture of what admissions looked like at many of the top schools this year. Sometimes it helps to see the actual numbers to put everything in perspective, but as Steinberg warns us, this is far from a complete picture. He begs us to remember that “there are an estimated 2,000 four year colleges in this country –and…the vast majority accept nearly all who apply. That a fine education can be had at so many institutions, without some of the agita inherent in the decisions chronicled above, cannot be emphasized enough.”

As you move toward making a decision that will affect the next four years of your life and beyond, it might be comforting to know that the college application process may have been the most stressful part. Most people end up enjoying their college experience much more!