College Essay Do’s and Don’ts

Essay
Even the most stellar applicant is comparatively boring when reduced to just
grades and test scores. That's why admissions officers will use your college
essay to get to know you better. Here are some Collegewise do's and dont's to
make sure they like what they read.

1.  DON'T try to impress admissions officers.
Don't inject deep, philosophical meaning into your tenure as junior class
treasurer, or try to extract life lessons from your time on the wrestling team.
Instead, just tell the truth. If you got the snot beat out of you on the
wrestling mat, but still liked wrestling anyway, say so. It's more important to
be honest than it is to be impressive.

[Read more…]

Five Things Every College Wants You to Be

It’s that time of year when seniors begin sitting down to
fill out college applications.  And when they do, a lot of those seniors
will be wondering, “What do these colleges want to hear?” and “What are they
looking for ?” and “Would winning the presidency of a small but
quickly-developing country improve my chances???”

While colleges aren’t looking for just one type of student,
there are certain things every college would like you to be, especially when
you’re filling out applications.

1.  Be focused.

When you fill out your applications, remember that more
information isn’t always better.  Admissions officers are inundated with
material at this time of year. If you send them a five page resume listing everything
you’ve done since birth, they won’t be able to tell who you are and what you
really care about.  Focus on activities that really matter to you. 
Don’t include extra materials unless the college encourages you to do so. 
And most importantly, remember that you have a limited amount of space to use
to help them get to know you.  It's better to use that space to share a
lot about the most important parts of your life than it is to share a little
about everything.  

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Five Tips for Parents of New College Freshmen

MoveinIf you’re a parent preparing to send your son or daughter off to be a freshman in college, congratulations.  This is one of those things you’ve likely dreamed about doing since you first became a parent, and now it’s about to happen. 

Every year about this time, we send our Collegewise parents a list of 5 things they can do to help their kids make the transition to college.  This year, we thought we’d use our blog to share the list with any parent who might benefit.  We hope you’re excited to watch your kids go from happy and successful high school graduates to happy and successful adults. 

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I am not a tuba player. And I’m OK with that.

Pocman_5
When we go to college admissions conferences, we’ll always attend any session in which Bruce Poch, Dean of Admissions from Pomona College, is participating.  He’s outspoken, honest, and refreshingly forthright.  With so much mystery surrounding the admissions process, it’s nice to hear from a decision maker who’s comfortable discussing what admissions officers look for–and what drives them crazy–when reading applications. 

His article in Newsweek this week makes the process seem so complex, and with good reason–it is.  A lot of parents and students make themselves crazy trying to decipher exactly what combination of grades and test scores and activities will guarantee admission.  But that magic combination doesn’t exist.  Poch reminds students that while there are no guarantees, you’re always better off just being yourself.

Simple Things You Can Do to Help You Get into College

Simplethings_4
Even colleges often appreciate the simple things in life.
Here are five simple things you can do that will make admissions officers take
notice.

1. Get a job
No, we don’t necessarily mean a high-profile internship or a fancy sounding job
at your dad’s law firm. We mean a regular job, like washing cars, waiting
tables, or stocking inventory. Finding, getting, and keeping a job takes
initiative, responsibility and hard work, and a kid who earns an honest dollar
flipping burgers is always appealing to colleges.

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Five College Planning Mistakes Parents Must Avoid

Mistakes
It’s normal for parents to want to help. And kids need your
support during what can be a stressful process. But make sure you don’t make
these common mistakes (all of which are made with the best of intentions).

1. Don’t get involved with the college essays
Parents think and write differently than kids do.  That’s why when a
parent helps too much with a college essay, it is almost always glaringly
apparent to an admissions officer.  Let your student take the lead and
write what she wants to write.  And while you stay hands-off, encourage
your kids to seek feedback from an English teacher or counselor who knows them
well.

[Read more…]

The Art of the Graduation Speech

Willferrel
Every year around this time, a few of our Collegewise kids ask us to look over the graduation speeches they’ve written so we can “give them feedback.” And every year, our most important feedback is that they not write the standard high school graduation speech. I know that standard speech well. In fact, every kid in America who writes a high school graduation speech seems to say the same three things.

1. “We’ve come so far in just four years.”

2. “We’ve endured good times and bad, but we’ve done so together.”

3. “Now we’re going off into our futures, but we’re well prepared thanks to our wonderful high school.”

There’s nothing wrong with those messages. In fact, those are entirely appropriate thoughts to share. But the rules we teach for great college essays all apply here.  Don’t say what everybody else says exactly how they say it.  Be honest.  Be specific.  Be forceful.  Say something meaningful.  Don’t resort to quotes or clichés.

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College of Wooster

Wooster, OH

We love a college with a sense of style. Wooster2

Take the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, a community of 1800 students who
take learning much more seriously than they take themselves. The college’s
mascot is the “Fighting Scot.” The marching band wears kilts and plays
bagpipes. Seniors are each given a Tootsie Roll when they hand in their senior
projects, and the head football coach conducts the Scot Marching Band during
its Fall Concert. Stan Hales, Wooster’s
President, sums up the importance of
Wooster’s tradition this way.

"Tradition animates Wooster. We can treat it seriously or tongue in cheek,
which is indicative of the institution’s willingness to do things a bit funky
or quirky. There’s less peer pressure here, and a wider range of student
behavior and dress. We have a lighthearted view toward personal expression.
We’re very unpretentious."

[Read more…]

Young, Gifted, and Not Getting Into Harvard

I’ve done my share of ranting about the media’s focus on all the bad news in college admissions today.  So it was nice to see this article as a voice of reason in the "Parenting" column of the New York Times.  The author, a Harvard interviewer, points out that most of the kids he interviews won’t get in to Harvard.  In fact, he admits that none of his own four children will get in (they won’t even apply).  And most importantly, he reminds readers that all of those kids will still be OK even without a Harvard acceptance.  Thanks to Paul K and Katie K (though not the same "K") for sending it to me.

Just Say “Yes.”

We’re always telling our Collegewise kids that where they go to college isn’t nearly as important as what they do while they are there.  That’s an even more important concept to remember at this time of year for kids who might be dealing with some admissions rejections.  Four minutes is hardly enough time to explore this idea, but NBC’s Today Show recently had on Lloyd Thacker from the Education Conservancy.  Lloyd advises that kids say "no" to colleges that rejected them, and start saying "yes" to a future at a college who did.  It’s good advice, and as we’re big fans of Lloyd and the work his organization is doing, I just wanted to share the clip.