Archives for Aug,2012

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The Common Application Essay Prompts

The Common Application went live a month ago and while some of you have already begun your essays, there are a lot of you who haven’t. If you are in the latter group and are stressed about where to start and what to write about, here’s a breakdown of the essay prompts and how you should approach them:

1. Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

The key to this question is the word, “evaluate”. Don’t just tell a story, but get to the meaning of it and the impact it has had on you. You want to show self-awareness and an ability to reflect on your life; what do you think, how do you think it and why does it matter?

2. Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.

This question asks you to wax poetic on why this issue is important to you – not why it should be important to me or anyone else. This is very relevant to your character and your ability to think critically, to take a stance on something and to show a college why you might make their campus a better place. Keep in mind that sometimes discussing a small or local issue can be more powerful than trying to discuss the national debt.

3. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

Be willing to go beyond the introduction of someone and actually analyze why they are an influence on you, positively or negatively. Think about what “influence” means and consider that it doesn’t have to relate to a “role model.” At all costs, avoid the generic, “My mom is my hero” response unless there is a significant reason why – it’s just been done too many times.

4. Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

Keep your description to a minimum but really get into your analysis of the influence. The explanation is what reveals your passions, interests and personality. It’s this part of the essay that has the most value for the college admissions folks. Try to avoid the predictable cast of former presidents, movie stars and Harry Potter.

5. A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.

What will you contribute to your future campus community – that’s the message you are trying to convey here by talking about the things you have already done. Quality versus quantity, just like with your activity list and resume. When getting into diversity, be mindful that diversity is not just about race. Additionally, if you are going to write about a racial topic, be mindful of the fact that you do not know who your reader(s) will be. Be wary of which direction you take this question if you are applying to schools where the mindset and atmosphere is more conservative. This is a topic you can take some risks with, but not with these schools.

6. Topic of your choice.

This question is for the very few of you who just don’t have something to write about that fulfills the previous five questions. However, just about anything can fit into one of them so try to exhaust those possibilities first. Because while it is tempting to go with this question due to the perceived freedom it allows you, it’s also a risky proposition for the same reason. You have to make sure you are making a point of significance, that you are getting your voice across and giving the reader a sense of your character, values and beliefs. In short, you have to make sure your essay matters.

Right now we’re doing a lot of work with essays, so if you would like some help with yours give me a ring or email me directly at – I would love to hear from you!


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Finding The Right College

The other day I visited Fairfield University in Fairfield, CT and went on a tour with a really great tour guide, Luis. Luis, a junior double majoring in international studies and economics, is from Mexico and when he was in high school his dream was to attend Arizona State University. As he told us, Arizona State appealed to him because it was close to home, was a big school where there were lots of things to do, and it was located in a hot climate where he wouldn’t have to worry about cold, snowy winters. However, his school counselor suggested he also apply to Fairfield. She thought it would be a good fit for him and she also didn’t want him just applying to one school. So, in an effort to appease her, Luis did as she suggested and didn’t think too much about it until he was up against the May 1st national commitment deadline.

Interestingly enough, Luis became disenchanted with Arizona State during the tail end of the application process.

When he called to check on the status of his application, he was first put on hold for long periods of time (more than 20 minutes on at least one occasion), then transferred from person to person, each one unable to help him with what was a very simple inquiry. By the time he was able to finally get an answer, he learned that the admissions office was unable to locate documents that Luis’ counselor had mailed in. Needless to say, he was frustrated and feeling like Arizona State was not all he thought it was.

Fairfield, on the other hand, actually reached out to Luis to see if he had any questions and to find out what his plans were after he missed the deadline. Luis made a quick visit to Fairfield and instantly fell in love. Why? Because every encounter he had with someone from the school was a positive one. Fairfield reached out to him and asked him to join their family. He felt welcome and he felt like he mattered to the school.

These feelings were important to Luis and ultimately outweighed the facts that he would be further from home and would have to deal with New England winters.

While I am proud of Luis for figuring out what was most important to him what I really like is that, three years later, he is still in love with Fairfield and is doing very well there. The size of the school, the Jesuit tradition of self-reflection, serving others and exploring the life around you and the interactions he has had with professors have all contributed to the school being a great fit for him. At Arizona State, he wouldn’t have had the benefit of class sizes that average in the mid 20’s and are capped at 30. He wouldn’t have had the opportunity to form relationships with professors let alone expect one professor to reach out and invite him to come and talk about internships and experiential opportunities whenever he wanted. In fact, most of his classes for the first two years would have been taught by graduate assistants.  At Arizona State, he would have had a completely different experience from the one he is having at Fairfield and from what I learned about Luis on our tour, I just don’t think it would have fit him well.

This isn’t about bashing Arizona State or promoting Fairfield University. Fairfield is quite expensive and while its Jesuit tradition is a rich one, a student body where 75% identify as Catholic and less than 9% identify as students of color will not appeal to everyone. But this story is an example of what can happen when you apply to a large school (Arizona State has an undergraduate enrollment of 58,400) versus a small one (Fairfield is only 3,300). You will be treated differently simply due to the volume of students applying. It’s also a demonstration of just how important it is to have options. If Luis had put all his eggs in the Arizona State basket, I’m pretty sure that he would not be as happy as he is today.

If you have any questions or comments about finding the right college, you can also email me directly at I would love to hear from you!

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ED, EA, Regular, Rolling – Which Way Should You Apply?

Elizabethtown College

Elizabethtown College

With the launch of the Common Application on August 1st, the 2012-2013 college application season is upon us. If you’re not familiar with the Common Application (more commonly referred to as the Common App), here’s a nice little post from that will get you caught up.

Last week I talked about the different ways of applying to colleges. Your level of interest and your qualifications are what will help you decide which one is the way to go. For now, let’s talk about the differences and how they affect you.

Early Decision, also known as ED, is where you choose to apply anywhere from November 1st to December 1st, and can expect to hear a decision by December 15th. Some schools will offer two rounds of early decision where ED I applicants hear in December and ED II applicants, who will apply typically around the same time as regular decision candidates, will expect to hear in February.

Early decision can be a great idea if you know, without a doubt, that you are in love with everything a school has to offer, you know you can afford to attend that school and you are ready, willing and able to commit to that school. You’re all in with early decision and the risk level is significant if you haven’t done your homework ahead of time.

Some things to consider with early decision:

You’re allowed to apply early to ONE school only and, if accepted, that decision is binding. That’s it. There’s no backing out of an early decision acceptance. This is why your love for the school must be true – you won’t have a financial aid award yet and you will have to contact the other schools at which you submitted regular applications and notify them that you are withdrawing those applications immediately. Some students will point to higher acceptance rates to justify their choice to apply early – for this past year, the regular acceptance rate at Duke was 11% while the early acceptance rate was 25%; for Johns Hopkins the rates were 16% and 38% respectively. While the acceptance rates are typically higher, the talent pool is also that much more competitive. Just spend a few minutes on College Confidential and search for “early decision” to tap into the mania.

Early Action, or EA, is where applicants complete applications in November or December and expect to hear an answer by the start of the New Year. Early action applicants can be accepted, denied or deferred to the regular decision round of applications. Unlike early decision, early action applicants are not bound to their acceptance and have the choice to commit by the May 1st deadline or attend another school altogether.

There are variations of early action policies so it is important to check with each school first. Some schools are considered single choice early action meaning that they will not allow applicants to apply to any other schools early. Other schools are considered unrestricted and allow applicants to apply early decision or early action to any number of schools.

Early action is great because you have the benefit of applying early and showing a school that you are a very interested applicant while also keeping your options open.

Regular Decision is the process by which you apply by each college’s published deadline which is usually around January 1st. Once the application and materials have been sent, applicants can expect to hear a decision by April 1st. Regular decision applicants can be admitted, denied or placed on a waiting list. More on waiting lists another day.

Regular decision is the vanilla of the application world. It’s plain and simple and doesn’t come with any surprises. Well, that’s not entirely true. Students who choose not to pay attention to what a school is looking for in its applicants can often be met with very disappointing surprises. 

Rolling Admission is where students are admitted on an ongoing, or rolling, basis. The schools begin making decisions in the early fall and continue until they have met their requirements for the new freshman class. Rolling admission provides students with a long period of time in which they can apply – often several months. Colleges may accept or reject an applicant right away, or they may hold off for a period time in order to compare him or her to other applicants. Depending on how strong or weak of an applicant they are, students may also find themselves on the waiting list.

There are several pros to rolling admission. Applicants can apply as soon as the application season is open and, therefore, demonstrate their interest to a school. Remember, colleges are looking for students who are more likely to enroll. Applying early on is a great way to show that you are that student. Because decisions are made on an ongoing basis, the earlier you apply, the earlier you can expect to hear a decision. It can feel great to get that first acceptance out of the way and may just help you enjoy the holidays with your family and friends that much more.

For the procrastinators, rolling admission is great because you can apply when you’re ready. I’m not saying you should work at a snail’s pace, but let’s be honest – some of you just do. Maybe you want to wait for first semester grades before you apply because you know you have some strong grades coming. Maybe your SAT scores were low and you wanted to take them again in December or January. Maybe you just happened to come upon a school mid-year that you hadn’t thought of before and now want to apply – for any of these reasons and more, schools with rolling admissions grant you the opportunity to apply later in your senior year.

Now, for every pro of rolling admission there are also cons. Just because decisions are rendered on a rolling basis, doesn’t mean everyone will hear right away. If your application isn’t the strongest, you could end up waiting several weeks or more before you hear back. This can get very frustrating when your friends hear back from the same school and you’re stuck waiting and wondering. Schools with rolling admission will start awarding aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. Funds are limited so if you apply too late, your financial aid award may not be very helpful. Housing could also be an issue if you apply too late.

As with anything in the college application process, do your homework early on. Check out the admissions webpage for any schools you are interested to find out which types of applications they offer.

If you have any questions or comments about the types of applications available to you and which one might be the best way for you to go, please use the comment box below – I would love to hear from you!

You can also email me directly at

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