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Category: Essay Writing

5 Takeaways: Simplifying the Application Process Workshop

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Earlier this week, as it is tradition, we had panelists from our soon to be College Freshmen class give their words of wisdom to the class of students applying this year and starting college Fall of 2017.

And so, a HUGE Thank you to the Class of 2020 Panelists who came to give their Words of Wisdom to the Class of 2021 in our “Simplifying the Application Process” Workshop at the CollegeCore Office!

Our Panelists were:

– Aditri Bhagirath – Carnegie Mellon University

– Anahita Sehgal – UCLA

– Ananya Mittal – Princeton University

– Aryaman Sethi – University of Chicago

– Rishab Srivastava – UC Berkeley

– Shankar Salwan – Northwestern University

– Shivam Bajaj – University of Southern California

– Simran Arora – Brown University

ICYMI: We had pages and pages of notes but since we can’t share them all, so see below for 5 Key Takeaways from our students.

1) Make a Balanced University List:

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Enthusiastic parents and ambitious students may say “Ivy League or nothing else” but be realistic about it.

Dreams are dreams for a reason. You may feel right now that you want to apply to all the Ivies even if you have no chance of getting in, but each rejection hurts a lot. You need targets and safeties to balance that.

And we mean targets too. Applying to 8 Ivies and 1 safety like Drexel isn’t good either. What if you only got into Drexel? Would you go there?

Plan out Early Action and Early Decision as well but understand where it gives you an edge versus where it may be better to apply Regular Decision.

2) SAT / ACT Tips

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The sooner you finish your SAT / ACT testing the better. Plus a reminder to Self-Study. No one can teach you to take the SAT, you have to put in the effort. The tutors have tips and tricks and ensure practice. Remember you are taking the test and not your tutor so the effort has to come from you in the test and before the test.

But don’t put too much pressure, the SAT / ACT isn’t the be all and end all. An excellent SAT score won’t save you if your school grades aren’t there. Remember, the SAT is a reflection of one day of exams and not of four years of prep like your grades. So balance your efforts.

3) Get cracking on your Essays

Start soon. You may write one CommonApp essay or you may write three. The most difficult part is starting. Remember you’re trying to stand out, so don’t make it generic, it needs to be about something important in your life. Don’t harp about your achievements, the rest of the CommonApp will cover that. Instead talk about challenges and motivations. Don’t be clichéd. If you are talking about a somewhat generic topic (like sports or community service), bring a new perspective like talking about your motivations why rather than narrating what happened. Don’t get too much feedback. Each perspective will confuse you and will be distracting. Do keep your focus narrow. This is a “Slice of Life” essay and a small experience and not story of your entire life. Follow us on Facebook because keep posting the latest essays available.

4) Take Charge of your Interviews

Unlike job interviews, these interviews are informal. They aren’t subject specific and can feel random at times. Prepare the questions but don’t rehearse them otherwise you will sound stiff. Balance. Guide your interviewer: You can guide the interview to discuss things you want to talk about. Suppose you want to discuss your dance and your interviewer chats about Bollywood. This is what you can do.

  • I’m a huge Bollywood dance fan!
  • But my favorite is Jazz which I’ve been learning for the last three years (showing your accomplishment)
  • In fact, I was really interested in the Jazz dance troupe at XYZ college (connecting to the college)

But don’t talk the entire time, let your interviewer talk to and let it evolve into a conversation. Remember to be prepared with questions at the end.

5) Don’t Overdo the Recommendations

There are school recommendation and external recommendations. Each University allows a different number of external though they all want 1 Counsellor recommendation and 2 Academic Teacher recommendations. But just because the college allows more, doesn’t mean you should send more. College Admissions says heavier the file, the faster it sinks. Only send them if they add value and aren’t repeating the same thing over and over.

Mantra of the Day: BALANCE

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Don’t spend all the time on school, or all the time on applications

Don’t overdo or underdo extracurriculars

Don’t make crazy unrealistic University lists

Balanced3

Make the most of your Summer – Edition 1 (Grade 12 / Rising Seniors)

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Temperatures rising and vacation approaches and as much as we want our days to devolve into lazing by the pool and watching Game of Thrones (Season 6 woohoo!) we want to give a few great tips and hints to college applicants. So this, is the first of a Three Part Series on how to make the most of your summer!

This first edition is for our 12th Graders and Rising Seniors. Before you know it, October will be here and Early Decision deadlines will be upon us. Colleges like knowing what you’ve done with your summer, so get yourself up and go out and conquer!

1) Common App essay

Essay Writing

I don’t have to repeat this to the seniors who have already started, but the Common App essay is an essential part of the process. Topics for 2016-17 came out early January  and seniors, if you haven’t already started, get a jump start on your essay! The topics are the same as last year, and are, as always, eliciting personal thoughts, opinions and stories. Whether it’s writing about a time when you stood up in class and challenged a popular opinion on the way a student election was going, or stepped up to become an adult, taking on responsibilities that transformed your perspective, the colleges can’t WAIT to know. A CommonApp essay is never one and done, and the summer is the perfect time to work on your drafts, give yourself the time to work, rework and rework again.

Essay Writing 2

If THIS is how you’re feeling, reach out to us! We’re doing essay brainstorming sessions with our students every week.

Pro Tip: Carry a notebook or start a notes section on your phone. The most fascinating essays we’ve ever read have been inspired at the oddest moments – on a plane when cut off from all wi-fi and external distractions, a student reflected on an illuminating trip to Haridwar or when the metro broke down and a student stepped back to observe the people around him.

2) Recommendations

Summer means school is closed! And while you as students are looking at filling your free time, so are your teachers. Before school closes, you should absolutely request your teachers for Letters of Recommendation – THEY ARE FREE! Remember, your teachers are probably writing letters for dozens of students and in case you’re applying early and hoping that your teacher can get your thoughts in on time, give them time to work on it.

Recommendation

Pro Tip: While it’s a good idea to get a teacher who can comment on your academic readiness for the major you are applying for, it’s more important to choose someone who really knows you. Remember to help your teachers by giving them a copy of your resume or list of activities, maybe even filling out a page of anecdotes reminding them of a time you participated in class, interacted with them on something important (whether inside or outside the classroom) or went above and beyond.

3) Standardized Tests

SAT Koala

The last few attempts of the SAT and the ACT before the Early Deadlines (Nov 1) are upon us. You have two attempts of the SAT (June & October) and two attempts of the ACT (June & September) left to finish up your Standardized Tests and Subject Tests. The summer is a great time to work on them and make sure you nail the exams. If you’re still unsure, read up on the New SAT vs the ACT.

Pro Tip: Both exams are marathons, not sprints. We aren’t SAT / ACT coaches but, as third party bystanders, the biggest mistake we’ve seen students making is not enough full-length tests. When the students tire at the end of three hours, they make stupid mistakes, ruining the effort they’ve put in. Use the summer to do at least 20 practice tests! Then go kick that exam’s ass.

4) Research Colleges

Besides the Common App essay, you will have the much-dreaded Why X College essay, so use the summer to research colleges and finalize your college list. You may not get the chance to go visit colleges (check out our tips if you do) but you can still do your research while at home. This first great resource is the website. No seriously, the website is there for prospective students, so USE IT. Next, check out the college on social media.

Research College Social Media

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, keep up with colleges via their social media networks. Just don’t forget to clean up your own.

Pro Tip: Besides primary data, use forums like College Prowler, College Confidentional and Unigo to learn more. Additionally, YouTube is an amazing resource as well, for college virtual tours and general videos to get a sense of the campus.

5) CommonApp Application

Roll Over

Late 2015, Common App announced a new feature – the Common App Rollover! This is a huge change for us all because seniors would otherwise have to wait till August when the new Common App came out to begin their applications. While students still need to wait for the supplements, you can now get a jump start filling out oodles of data in the Common App during your summer. So grab your passport and information and settle in, let’s get this show on the road.

Random Note: We as counselors love the Common App for bringing families together. Confused? Well, every time we sit with a student to help them through the app, we reach a point when they need to call their parents – “Dad, when did you go to college?” The sound of a student reaching out to their parent to learn more about them warms our hearts. And makes us laugh.

6) Activities

Oprah Resume

I wish it was that easy, but ever since Oprah retired, you have to WORK for the resume. Once you start the application, you’ll realize that the Common App has 10 little sections for you to write about your involvement in various extracurricular activities. Depending on the kind of person you are, 10 can either be a lot or too little. This section isn’t easy and can take a lot of time for a few reasons 1) you need to rank your activities 2) you need to condense your experience with each activity into a character limit smaller than a tweet.

If you don’t have 10 activities, the summer is a great time to find some! It could be Community Service or an Internship, or something that sets you apart. But really, you don’t have to cure Cancer to get into Harvard or Stanford, you can find other activities to pique the admissions officers’ interest. Admissions Officers are looking for a few things – Leadership, Depth vs Breadth and time spent – and they use that connect to what you would do on campus.

Pro Tip: Start with a resume so that filling out the sections becomes easier.

7. Online Courses

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I know I know, you’re sick of hearing about them. But really, MOOC’s have been a boon, allowing students to explore their interests beyond the curriculum. Looking at the rigid CBSE and ICSE curriculums in particular, the classes you attend in school rarely allow you to mix and match across interests or show that you can and will go above and beyond. Thus, online courses are extremely valuable because they allow you to show an array of interests and explore your major in greater detail. Check out Coursera, MOOC List, eDX for a few! Moreover, colleges understand the value too and have been asking you about them. Brown had an essay in 2015 that said – “Please list the courses, including those you may have taken outside your secondary school, that relate to your chosen field.”

Pro Tip: Look for certified courses so that you are able to share them with colleges. You can also refer to these courses in Why Major type essays.

The “Costco Essay” and what that means for you!

The incredible essay of Brittani Stinson, the girl who got into 5 Ivies and Stanford has been making the rounds. The funny, off-beat essay about Costco is incredibly fun and we’ve had a chance to see it as well. And so, we are taking the chance to talk through why this essay was really successful.

Brittani Stinson at Costco!

1. She took a risk and it paid off

Costco is different. Costco is off-beat. Hell, placing your commonapp essay in Costco is just plain weird. When an admissions officer is accosted by a million essays, having an interesting essay can set you apart.

2. She got you from the word go

“Managing to break free from my mother’s grasp, I charged. With arms flailing and chubby legs fluttering beneath me, I was the ferocious two- year old rampaging through Costco on a Saturday morning.”

A good essay has a good beginning and Brittani has that! The action packed first line and the mention of Costco has you hooked. You’re curious about what’s happening next!

3. She subtly “shows” herself

Employing the ever-important “show don’t tell” technique, Brittani highlights her numerous interests.

“I adopted my exploratory skills, fine tuned by Costco, towards my intellectual endeavors. Just as I sampled buffalo-chicken dip or chocolate truffles, I probed the realms of history, dance and biology, all in pursuit of the ideal cart-one overflowing with theoretical situations and notions both silly and serious. I sampled calculus, cross-country running, scientific research, all of which are now household favorites. With cart in hand, I do what scares me; I absorb the warehouse that is the world. Whether it be through attempting aerial yoga, learning how to chart blackbody radiation using astronomical software, or dancing in front of hundreds of people, I am compelled to try any activity that interests me in the slightest.”

4. She keeps her focus narrow

Instead of going ALL over the board in terms of her characteristics, Brittani focuses on her curiosity thus keeping the focus narrow, an essential part of a 650 word essay.

“Perusing the aisles gave me time to ponder. Who needs three pounds of sour cream? Was cultured yogurt any more well-mannered than its uncultured counterpart? Costco gave birth to my unfettered curiosity.

5. She has fun

You truly can’t help but like Brittani at the end of this essay, mostly because she has fun with it!

But you don’t need to try to mimic Brittani’s essay. Understand what she did well but keep your essay focused on something important to you! To check out the full essay, see Business Insider.

HOWEVER, note one thing. The essay alone didn’t get Brittani into college. She had an incredible GPA, speaks fluent Portuguese and Spanish and did a number of great extracurriculars. Check out her amazing qualifications here – Brittani’s Qualifications.