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.

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.

How to Write Fewer Essays for College with CEO's Essay RoadMap

CEO's Essay RoadMap is designed to take any list of universities and find the fewest number of essays that can satisfy all your requirements. We've cooked up a sample here for you to see just how much work it can save you.

Twelve turns into Four!

The schools that appear in the checklist below have 12 required questions among them, and CEO's Essay RoadMap shows you how to answer those 12 questions using just 4 pieces of original writing.

It's also worth noting that there are 19 (count them!) optional, department-specific, and special applicant questions that may or may not apply to every applicant. These can include specific programs within the universities, scholarships, or certain majors that have their own application requirements. These questions are rarely located on the Common App and take hours to locate on the schools' own applications (if you even know to look for them).

The Essay RoadMap is flexible, too. Each check box next to a school's name can be deselected and the RoadMap can be regenerated using the modified list of schools.

Try it yourself with our free Essay RoadMap preview tool!

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.

Tips for Personal Statement and College Essay Writing

Now that we've talked a bit about the essay topics you should consider and those you should avoid, let's talk about your actual writing, and how to easily improve the impression you're making on the admissions officers who will see your pieces.

After a cliched topic, the biggest problem you'll want to avoid is writing in generalities. This note applies to many elements of an essay, but overall, it means that you should identify something that is of importance to you and to talk about it with commitment. Make sure that you are addressing the most specific elements of it that you understand, and that you're focusing on the decisions and actions you made during the event you're writing about.

Avoid phrases like "she's always there for me" or "looking around the room, I realized..." Avoid phrasings that don't tell us what someone is actually doing, saying, or feeling.

Here's a short list of writing suggestions to improve others' sense of your writing:

  • Take a risk
  • Show, don't tell
  • Use specific details
    • General: My uncle Mike has been a huge influence in my life.
    • Specific: My uncle Mike was the man who told me my brother had broken both his legs skiing in the Alps. Mike was the man who took me to the father-son picnic when my dad was ill. And when I found myself in need of help that late Friday night that would forever change my life, it was Mike’s number I dialed.

There are a whole lot more here at CEO's guide for what to do in a college essay.

We would love to hear your ideas or other good examples in the comments.

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!

CEO's Essay Requirement Updating Rolls On

We're hard at work here at CEO keeping all the essay requirements current for each school in our extensive database. Each Friday, we send an email out to our current members to let them know which schools have been updated for the coming year, as well as to update them on key admissions data such as application deadlines, SAT and ACT ranges of accepted students, and class rank percentiles for the most recent class to enroll.

As an example, here's the list of those added just this week, putting our list of updated schools at well over 430!

  1. Colby College
  2. Columbia College Chicago
  3. Davidson College
  4. Earlham College
  5. Eugene Lang College
  6. Fairfield University
  7. Fairleigh Dickinson University
  8. Long Island University/C.W. Post Campus
  9. Marist College
  10. Mercer University
  11. Michigan State University
  12. Montana State University-Bozeman
  13. Mount St. Mary's College
  14. New Mexico State University
  15. Northeastern University
  16. Northwestern University
  17. Occidental College
  18. Oglethorpe University
  19. Ohio State University-Columbus
  20. Ohio University
  21. Old Dominion University
  22. Pennsylvania State University-University Park
  23. Philadelphia University
  24. Plymouth State University
  25. Ramapo College of New Jersey
  26. Ringling College of Art & Design
  27. Rollins College
  28. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
  29. Rutgers-New Brunswick
  30. Rutgers-Newark
  31. Seattle Pacific University
  32. Skidmore College
  33. St. Bonaventure University
  34. St. Catherine University
  35. St. John's College (MD)
  36. St. John's College (NM)
  37. Stonehill College
  38. Transylvania University
  39. Tulane University
  40. University of New Haven
  41. University of Pennsylvania
  42. Wheaton College (MA)
  43. Xavier University (OH)

By using our Essay RoadMap preview page you can see all the schools we've updated so far for 2011. Any college without an asterisk has been updated - and while you're at it, you can see first-hand the potential of what CEO can do for you.

The updating process continues in earnest this weekend, with another large push coming in the early parts of September. Stay tuned.

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.

The Journal of College Admission Writes on New Technologies

Where does the road in that logo roam? To new technologies, my friend.

The Journal of College Admission, a publication that discusses the National Association for College Admission Counseling (or NACAC), recently put out an article called "Using Technology in Undergraduate Admission: A Student Perspective."

It points out that nearly all students are using various forms of technology to guide them through the admissions process. In fact, the article mentions that, "One survey found that 88 percent of college-bound prospective students would be disappointed or possibly eliminate a school from consideration if the institution's web site did not meet expectations."

We encounter many college websites that are more complicated than they need to be, especially in their organization of honors, scholarship, and departmental essays, so we commiserate with applicants who are frustrated by this. Lucky for you, CEO's goal is to design a simple technology that provides a solution while streamlining your efforts to simplify and organize the process. Glad to have you with us as we head into the new application season.

Common Application for 2011 Is Live - New Schools Added

That's right. It says 35 years.

The Common App has updated for the class of 2015. This year's application features twenty-nine new schools, including Columbia University, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, UConn, and three SUNY schools - Maritime College, Morrisville State College, and Potsdam.

As in past years, many schools require supplements to the Common App, which means additional writing, sorting, and organization. CEO is right on the edge of these releases and we make sure our application information is up to date. So as these supplements are made available, we'll have them here, and your Essay QuickFinders and Essay RoadMaps will update automatically to reflect the latest information for the schools you've selected.

Make the most of these early releases and get your writing done ahead of time! Remember that CEO is a great resource for finding scholarship and honors programs, too. That's cash money and respect! What else could you ask for?

One of the reasons schools make these requirements known so far ahead of time is to allow you to explore the departmental and honors requirements so many of them have without getting overwhelmed. Too often we hear about students who choose not to apply to programs or even entire universities just because of the application workload! That just won't do. So use CEO's tools as much as you can and keep your eye on the prize.