Why Do You Want To Attend This College?

The most frequently-asked-about piece of advice at College Essay Organizer revolves around how to tell a school that you want to attend. Surely they're not just looking for you to write about what makes them great, right? They already wrote their own guidebooks. They should know what makes them great.

And you're right. The purpose of these essays is not to talk about them but to talk about you. Your job in all of your college essay writing is to convince the reader that you're an interesting person who belongs in their highly-selective class. You're trying to get them to choose you instead of someone else.

Easier said than done, indeed. So today we direct you to a post written last year that has gotten a lot of traffic: How to tell a college that you're interested.

Always keep in mind that your job is to express what you have that they want. It's already implied that they have what you want - a great education and a raft of opportunities for your future, whatever that may be. Do this by identifying your own intellectual interests and developing them from a personal standpoint.

The Common App for 2011/2012 is Live

That's right. The wait is over.

The Common App went live yesterday officially beginning the application process for the class of 2016. The Common App, now totaling 456 schools, has added 45 new members this year, including Caldwell College, Howard University, and St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

College Essay Organizer is now in the thick of the updating process, keeping track of all the new changes and supplemental essay questions for you. Expect hundreds of updates by the end of the week!

We continue to receive feedback on how College Essay Organizer is the perfect partner for using the Common App. It instantly delivers not only the supplemental essay questions, but also the department-specific questions and scholarship questions, which are often not included in the Common App. Check here for some great tips on how to use College Essay Organizer and the Common App to write winning essays.

Today Is A Great Day To Get The Process Rolling

Lee Bierer

Lee Bierer of College Admissions Strategies

Today's blog post comes from Lee Bierer, independent counselor and principal of College Admissions Strategies in Charlotte, North Carolina. Additionally, Lee has been writing the weekly “Countdown to College” column for The Charlotte Observer, that is syndicated nationally by McClatchy Newspapers, for over four years. Lee specializes in three areas of college admissions counseling: college identification and selection, application strategy and scholarship search. You can learn more about her and her services at www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.

Now is the right time for high school juniors and their parents to be thinking about colleges and the admissions process. It's not too early, and, thankfully, not too late.

Many families find the most important first step is to discuss options and expectations.

You don't want your child poring over catalogs from colleges in the Northeast if you really want him within driving distance. With private schools costing $20,000 to $50,000 per year, you owe it to yourself and your child to have a frank discussion regarding finances. He needs to know how much has been saved and your expectations for his financial commitment toward college, typically student loans.

Parents and students should independently make a list of a dozen or so colleges that would be a good fit for the student.

Before you begin, have your son or daughter compile PSAT or SAT scores, high school grades, and rank in class or estimated grade point average. These stats will guide you, but understand that only half of students fall within SAT ranges listed in the guidebooks. While grades, rigor of curriculum and SATs are typically the most important criteria, factors such as extracurricular activities, college essays and letters of recommendation  make a difference.

Borrow or buy a current guidebook, and spend some time reading about a range of colleges and universities. Try to reduce your biases and think about what kind of college or university will best serve your child.

Basic areas to consider: size, location, academic offerings, retention rate (how many freshmen return for their sophomore year), cost and availability of financial aid. Depending on your student's interests, you may want to include sports teams and Greek life. (How important are fraternities and sororities to the college?) Some guidebooks offer a quality-of-life rating that provides a peek into campus culture and the surrounding community.

Listen to your student - Once you've done your homework, compare notes and listen to your student's wants and needs. Take a look at the schools that you have in common and discuss why each of you listed them. Encourage everyone to participate in brainstorming and try to minimize judgments. Then hone both of your lists into one with 15 to 25 colleges to explore in more detail. As you narrow the list, keep two things in mind:

  • Academic factors: Where will your student be challenged, but not shoved or overshadowed? Where is the learning environment that matches your student's personal learning style?
  • Social factors: Where will your student be comfortable? Where will he fit in?

Make sure your child "owns" his role in the admissions process. This first exercise often sets the tone for what can be a wonderful collaboration.

3 Tips for Picking a College

  • Don't focus too much on prestige or rankings.
  • Don't assume that schools that cost more are of higher quality.
  • Don't believe there is only one perfect college.
Posted in Guest Bloggers | Comments Off on Today Is A Great Day To Get The Process Rolling

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)

More Writing Help For College Admissions Essays

Everything Is Interesting

Yeah... but maybe not.

The college admissions essay is in many ways its own form. You are both writing about something else and trying to sell yourself as a person to someone you don't know all that well - the college admissions officer.

Your biggest challenge is to be engaging and original in a way that doesn't alienate your reader. The best way to achieve this is to write about something that you believe in wholeheartedly. Write about something you’re interested in, not something you think will interest an admissions officer. Make sure the story belongs wholly to you.

Now write the first draft with your heart, not with your head. Try a free-writing exercise. Set a timer for 20 minutes and start thinking about your topic. Once your timer starts, start typing away and don’t stop until the full 20 minutes have passed. Even if you have to write the same word over and over again to keep the momentum going, an exercise like this will free up your mind and yield some surprisingly original ideas. This is the material from which you can craft a more precise essay, but the exercise is vital - it will give you concepts and experiences you hadn't thought of, or wouldn't have been able to plan from a more rigorous outline.

Once you’re ready to try a more fully developed draft, stick to writing that is descriptive. Show, don’t tell.  Don’t write “I got wet in the rain” when you can be “weighed down with a waterlogged sweater.” This kind of evocative, sensory language can paint a picture of you for a stranger, or better yet, a college admissions officer. It’s something the reader can remember you by when the time comes to make an admissions decision.

When you’ve finished, read it aloud to yourself to get a good sense of its rhythm. Are all the sentences too short, or too long? Does it feel like it drags? Or does it sound animated or energetic? Try it. Because if you don’t like the sound of your own essay, no one else is going to either.

Above all, don't be afraid to throw away what you've written and start again. You will have learned immensely about what you are trying to say just from having done the first draft. This essay should not be something you write once. Ideally, it should be the first piece of writing you do ten drafts of. You will be amazed how much you can improve on your first draft once you've identified what it is you're really trying to say.

Then say it in as few words as possible.

Posted in College Essay Writing Tips | Comments Off on More Writing Help For College Admissions Essays

How To Write A Personal Statement for College Admissions

Easy College Admissions Writing... With Sinatra

Easy College Admissions Writing... With Frank Sinatra.

Chances are, your days are already pretty packed: classes, extracurriculars, seeing friends, spending time with family… and now throw on top of that applying to college. Senior year can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to writing your personal statement or other college admissions essays. And while you’ve certainly written essays on the Civil War, Einstein, or plant biology, a personal essay is a different animal.

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.

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.

Posted in College Essay Writing Tips | Comments Off on How To Write A Personal Statement for College Admissions

College Admissions Counselors Are Overwhelmed

The Fall 2010 Journal of College Admission features an insightful editorial by Robert Bardwell describing the difficulties guidance counselors face today. As the number of college applications balloons nationwide, guidance counselors are able to budget less and less time to students in one-on-one environments. Mandated testing and paperwork, in conjunction with insufficient training and education, make the job more complicated and time-consuming than ever.

Another often-overlooked element of the job cited in Bardwell's article is that for many low-income and first-generation students, guidance counselors are the only source of college admissions counseling. For these students especially, one-on-one time is vital.

We at CEO see our website as an essential part of making the college admissions process more efficient, not only for students, but for counselors as well. CEO's new master account service makes it easy for guidance counselors to keep all of their students' requirements accessible from within a single account, and makes it possible to continually update that information when students' plans change.

One of the most pressing concerns for guidance counselors as their responsibilities grow (but their time available does not) is that statistics have proven that very high student-to-counselor ratios negatively affect the access students have to college advising, which can only hurt their chances at finding a school that optimally suits them. We at CEO aim to be a driving force in creating more time for counselors to do what they do best - serve students.

3 Steps To A Winning College Admissions Essay

College Essay Mad Libs

Here's what not to do. We said, THIS IS WHAT NOT TO DO.

So you’ve done all the research. You now know where you’re applying, your SAT scores are stellar, and your list of extracurriculars is a mile long. But how do you make yourself stand out amongst the thousands of other students all fighting for the same spot at your top choice school?

We know that writing a strong college essay is the best way to ensure that admissions officers see the student behind the numbers. So don’t hide who you are, and use these tips to make sure your true colors come through:

1. Choose a topic that is specific to you.

Students often make the mistake of choosing a topic that is too broad or overused. For example, a vague recollection of some sports-related memory or a generally clichéd observation on life lessons learned while volunteering at a homeless shelter. Ask yourself this: What is a story only I can tell? That’s the one they want to hear.

2. Have a trusted educator read a draft.

The pressures of applications can make students feel like they have to sound “smart,” but once the thesaurus comes out for those four-syllable zingers, your personality can easily disappear. “If it sounds like a Ph.D thesis, it’s probably not their voice, the voice we’re looking for,” says Parke Muthe, the associate dean of admissions at the University of Virginia. Having a teacher or guidance counselor you respect read a draft can ensure the words are truly yours.

3. Be concise.

Most essay requirements cap the word count at 500, so make every word purposeful. Cut anything that is superfluous or repetitive. Each sentence should reveal a little more information about you: the way you think, the way you act, and the way you see the world. That way, admissions officers can walk away from your essay with a sense of who you are and hopefully, remember you.  That said, going a bit over the word limit is not going to hurt your chances – and it might even help if those additional words convey a great deal more about you.

Another way of thinking about this is don't write for length. Your high school teachers often do you a disservice by assigning a paper as a "two page assignment." Think about the content first, not how long it needs to be. You want this piece of writing packed with specific, memorable content, rather than words just for words' sake. Revise and edit! This means writing a lot more than you think you have to, then cutting it down for the material that matters.

Posted in College Essay Writing Tips | Comments Off on 3 Steps To A Winning College Admissions Essay

The Secret to College Admissions Essays

Ever heard of “The Deal” before? It’s just a little thing that keeps everyone and everything thing in the entire world together. You and your friends, your parents, even you and your college have a deal – it's the thing one side wants that the other can give them.

For you, it’s clear what you want from the school: an endless stream of parties masquerading as an education. Quick tickets to a cappella concerts. That sort of thing. When you apply to a university, you’re making it clear you want them.

But for the school, what is it they want from you? Believe it or not, it’s your job to figure that out.

When you identify what it is about you that is desirable, you help do the college’s work for them.

Maybe you’re a left-handed oboe player from Wyoming? Maybe not. Maybe you’re a world-class chess champion who is also a left-handed oboe player. Okay, sorry about that. Focus.

The point is that each applicant has something that sets him or her apart, and it’s your job as an applicant to find it, and make it a big part of your application. You need to make it clear what the deal is between you and the school – you get a four-year party with some schooling on the side and a very large bill, and they get… what?

Who are you and what do you bring to the table?

Remember to articulate what might stand out best about you. While you're at it, try and write as few essays as possible for all the schools you want to apply to. Now you're doing twice the work with less than twice the effort. Not half bad.

Posted in College Essay Writing Tips | Comments Off on The Secret to College Admissions Essays

3 Ways To Get Started On Your College Admissions Essays

It is very important that you let the experts help you. Do not ask kittens for help.

College admissions is a competitive game these days, as we are surely not the first to tell you. But more often than not it's the getting started that poses the greatest challenge for students. If you are feeling overwhelmed or have simply been procrastinating when you know you shouldn't be, read on.

1. Talk to your parents

Your parents have advice to offer that might surprise you. They've seen parts of the country you've never been to, and have likely studied all kinds of things you know nothing about. Some of these things are even interesting, and taking an intro course in one of those fields might not be a bad idea. One of the great things about American universities is that they don't expect you to declare your major before you arrive. Most schools will give you up to two years to do so. As a result, you're going to have the opportunity to study things you never knew existed. Your parents might be able to talk to you about what you're interested in and point out new academic opportunities where you least expect them.

At the very least, get a college tour or three under your belts. Your parents do the driving, they pay for the gas, you see exotic lands... It could be worse.

All this information will help get you on the ball when you talk to your counselor.

2. Meet with your guidance counselor.

You have a guidance counselor. Let that person do some guiding. He or she is going to have access to plenty of information about schools you're not familiar with. Ask for info on schools that offer the kind of scholastic programs, academic environment, and location you're after. Don't shy away from a school just because you haven't heard of it. Now is a good time to uncover those kinds of new experiences, viewpoints, and even parts of the country.

3. Get started with CEO

Your parents and your guidance counselor are probably going to give you more information than you know what to do with. That's where we come in. CEO is the only one stop shop for streamlining and optimizing the admissions essay experience. We show you how to write the fewest essays that work for all your applications. We make sure you don't miss any requirements, and even show you essays for special departments and scholarships that schools don't include on their primary applications.

So take the bull by the horns with these simple steps. And let us do the heavy lifting - get started today with some college admissions essay help.