College Admissions

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Monday, December 21, 2009

What Goes Into A Great College Essay


A great college essay, I suspect, is more than a good story.

Which character attributes should shine through?
Ability to work with others? Adaptability? Independence? Maturity?

What topics give the student something good to write about?
Work or volunteer experiences? Academic achievement? Overseas travel? Family life?

What happens to those applicants who don't seem to have the experiences to draw from?

What else should I have included?

This was selected as Best Answer

Jeannie Borin, M.Ed.
President & Founder at College Connections
Best Answers in:
Education and Schools (1)

Which character attributes should shine through?
Ability to work with others? Adaptability? Independence? Maturity? All of these work - it's okay also to be less than perfect as we all are just that

What topics give the student something good to write about?
Work or volunteer experiences? Academic achievement? Overseas travel? Family life? These are good but too general - isolate an event or one experience

What happens to those applicants who don't seem to have the experiences to draw from? writing about small daily occurrences can produce excellent essays

Here are tips for writing an excellent college admissions essay:

1) Make yourself shine within your own story: It’s important that you don’t repeat what has already been stated on your activity resume, but you should highlight your accomplishments in your essay- weave them into your story. Reveal your personality and perhaps your future goals in your writing.

2) Be humble but don’t be modest: Don’t underestimate yourself in any way and be proud and secure in who you are. Sincerely describe your most impressive accomplishments but don’t overdo it.

3) Be confident in your statements: It’s important to write as though you deserve gaining acceptance. Present yourself as unique with specific skills and passion.

4) Use personal stories: You really own your essay in this way and no one else can tell your story; this is what makes you unique.

5) Write descriptively: Engage the reader and be specific about your experience. If writing a memorable story about a ride in the car and what you saw, have that reader sitting there with you. A good story is priceless and you will catch attention in this way. Use powerful imagery and personal anecdotes whenever you can. Leave readers with a lasting impression and it will serve you well come decision time!

DOS & DON’TS in college essay writing:


Use personal detail: show, don’t tell.
Be concise.
Vary sentence structure and use transitions.
Use active voice verbs.
Answer the question and follow directions.
Seek a few opinions.
Stay focused as you have a limited word count.
Revise, revise, revise and proofread.


Write chronologically—it can be boring.
Thesaurus-ize: don’t write what you think admission officers want to hear or use language that is not your own.
State a point of view without backing it up with details and examples.
Repeat what is listed on your activity resume.
Use slang.

Your character is the hardest thing for admission officers to measure. The essay is your chance to reveal who you are- your passions, values, authenticity and sincerity. Be yourself!

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Running Tally on Some Colleges’ Early Admission Figures

December 16, 2009

During the week of Dec. 14, The Choice is keeping a running tally of some colleges’ figures on early applications, and acceptances, under binding early decision programs and non-binding early action. They are updating this list as they receive information on more institutions.

Brown (binding): 2,847 early applications, compared to 2360 last year, +487; 567 acceptances, compared to 570 last year, -3; total anticipated class size: about 1,485.

University of Chicago (non-binding): 5,883 early applications, compared to 3,774 last year, +2,109; 1,676 acceptances, compared to 1,128, +548; total anticipated class size: about 1,350.

Johns Hopkins (binding): 1,155 applicants, compared to 1,049 last year, +106; 493 acceptances, compared to 504 last year, -11; total anticipated class size: about 1,235

Yale (non-binding): 5,262 applications, compared to 5,556 last year, -294; 730 offers of admission, compared to 742, -12; total anticipated class size: about 1,310

Stanford (non-binding): 5,556 applications, compared to 5,363 last year, +183; 753 accepted, compared to 689 last year, +64; total anticipated class size: about 1675
Update | December 15, 2009, 7:56 p.m.

Pomona (binding; results that follow reflect only the first of two rounds): 516 applications, compared to 513 last year, +3; 98 acceptances (including from the Posse and QuestBridge Match programs), compared to 95 last year, +3; total anticipated class size: about 385.

Occidental (binding): 157 applications, compared to 113 a year earlier, +44; 60 acceptances, compared to 51, +9; total anticipated class size: 500

The College of Saint Rose (non-binding): 3,117 applications, compared to 2,409 last year, +608; 1,182 offers of admission, compared to 1,127, +55; total anticipated class size: about 600

Mount St. Mary’s University, Maryland (non-binding): 3,218 applications, compared to 2,784 last year, +514; 1,620 offers of admission, compared to 1,062, +558; total anticipated class size: about 440.

Swarthmore (binding, first of two rounds): 292 applications, compared to 302 last year, -10; 129 acceptances, compared to 126, +3; total anticipated class size: about 385

Hamilton (binding, first of two rounds): 356 applications to date (including some for round 2), compared to 377 on this date last year, -21; 150 acceptances (round 1), compared to 167 last year, -17; total anticipated class size: about 480

Emory (binding, first of two rounds): 709 applications, roughly same as last year; 350 early acceptances (including from the QuestBridge Match program), compared to 331 last year, +19; total anticipated class size: to be determined, but last year’s class was about 1,285

Cornell (binding): 3,579 early applications, compared to 3,443 last year, +136; 1,167 acceptances, compared to 1,264 last year, -103; total anticipated class size: about 3,150.

Dartmouth (binding): 1,600 early applications, compared to 1,549 last year, +51; 461 acceptances, compared to 401, +60; total anticipated class size: 1,100 to 1,150 (current freshman class is about 1,100, but college is considering increasing next year’s class to 1,150.)

Columbia (binding, figures for Columbia College and School of Engineering): 2,995 early applications, compared to 2,942 last year, +53; 631 acceptances, compared to 639, -8; total anticipated class size not specified.

Grinnell (binding, first of two rounds): 176 early applications, compared to 175 last year, +1; 90 acceptances, compared to 107, -17; total anticipated class size: 390,

Amherst (binding): 438 early applications, compared to 444 last year, -6; 147 acceptances compared to 138, +9; total anticipated class size: about 465

Duke (binding): 2,012 early applications, compared to 1,535 last year, +477; 602 acceptances compared to 583, +19; total anticipated class size: about 1,700.

Middlebury (binding, first of two rounds): 653 early applications, compared to 648 last year, +5; 262 acceptances (including some for fall 2010, and others for winter 2011) , compared to 274 last year, -12. total anticipated class size: about 700, including students matriculating in fall and winter

Northwestern (binding): 1,776 early applications, compared to 1,595 last year, +181; 618 acceptances compared to 590, +28; total anticipated class size: about 2,025

Wesleyan (binding, first of two rounds): about 500 early applications, roughly the same as last year; 237 acceptances, compared to 239 last year, -2; total anticipated class size: about 745.

Williams (binding): 541 early applications, compared to 614 last year, -73; 212 acceptances compared to 232 last year, -20;
Emma J. Fidel contributed reporting.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

At Many Colleges, Early Applications Rise

New York Times
December 16, 2009
This was the year when the frenzy to gain early admission to the nation’s most selective colleges seemed likely to subside, at least in part because a student admitted under a binding early program cannot seek competing financial aid offers as leverage to negotiate a better package.

Duke, Northwestern, Cornell, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and Dartmouth, among other highly selective colleges, received substantially more applications for their early decision programs this year than they did last.

Other colleges, including Wesleyan, Emory, Pomona and Grinnell, drew about as many early applications this fall as they did last fall, a time when the economic downturn was only just beginning. Each of those programs requires students to withdraw all other applications and attend if admitted.

“The fear of not getting in is a trump card,” said Jon Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School, a private school, and a former admissions officer at Stanford. “That fear is more powerful than any piece of factual information, such as, ‘Gee, colleges are having a hard time with financial aid, maybe we should cast our net fairly widely and not jump the gun and throw our eggs all in one basket.”’

Not all colleges held their ground, however. Yale and Williams saw a drop in early applications.

For the colleges themselves, which sent notifications to early-admission applicants this week, the calculus appears to have been more complicated. While early decision candidates are some of the savviest, most talented — and, yes, financially flush students — the increase in early decision applications did not necessarily translate into a surge of offers of admission.

Cornell, for example, received an additional 136 applications for its binding early decision program this fall, when compared to last, but accepted 103 fewer students than last year.

While nearly 40 percent of the seats in next year’s freshman class at Cornell are now reserved, the university has still allowed itself much flexibility for the main round of admission, when most students will apply. Moreover, colleges like Cornell are committed to assembling the most diverse classes possible — including racially and socio-economically diverse classes — and many of those who apply early tend to be white and of some means.

Johns Hopkins also received more early applications this fall, but accepted fewer students.

“Colleges are hesitant to go beyond a certain line when it comes to the percentage of the incoming class that they obtain through early decision,” said David Hawkins, director of public policy and research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “They’re aware of the research, and the potential inequities they might produce if they cross that line.”

Still, it is difficult to find a clear theme in all the colleges’ application figures for this fall. Williams, which has a binding early admission program, received 73 fewer applications this fall, a drop of 13.9 percent. And Yale — which has a non-binding early program, but which requires that its early applicants apply to no other early programs — received nearly 300 fewer applications, a drop of 5 percent.

And yet, Stanford, which has a program similar to Yale’s, got 183 more applications than last fall, an increase of 4 percent. And early applications to M.I.T., another non-binding program, surged by 13 percent, the university said Wednesday night.

In the case of Stanford and M.I.T., early applicants had little to lose, for they have until May to decide whether they wish to attend, a period in which they can consider other colleges’ offers.

In response to criticisms of early programs in recent years as the province of the elite (and the plugged-in), Harvard and the University of Virginia are among a handful of schools that have discontinued their early programs.

Some college counselors — including Bill McClintick, a counselor at Mercersburg Academy in Maryland, and a former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling — said some students at his school had specifically bypassed any binding early programs this fall, in favor of non-binding, to preserve their financial options.

Mr. Reider said several of his students had made similar decisions to bypass early decision entirely for the main round.

“I have to write a lot of recommendation letters now,” he said.