Search Results for: potential

Make your own value

The Today show ran this piece yesterday on the "Top 20 Best Value Colleges" which came from the results of a recent survey by The Princeton Review.  Now more than ever, families are asking questions–as they should–about the quality of colleges in relation to their sticker price.

Are private schools worth the money?

Will my education at a less selective public school be as good as the kind I might experience at a selective private school?

Which colleges will help me get a better paying job when I graduate?

But as you're comparing different colleges and what you'd be getting for your money, keep in mind that each student has enormous influence on the value of her college experience.

Here are two very different examples of students attending two very different schools.

Student #1 chooses to attend the cheapest public school in his state.  It's neither famous nor selective as it admits over 70% of the applicants.  He throws himself into the college experience.  He starts by visiting regularly with his academic advisor to talk about his courses and which ones he seems to like the most.  He visits professors during their office hours and gets to know them.  During his sophomore year, he chooses "regional development" as his major, a subject he first investigated at the urging of his advisor who thought he would love the courses (the advisor was right).  He's excited to go to class every day because he loves the subject matter.  He explores various activities and gets a part time job in the athletics office scheduling intramural sports games.  That job later turns into an internship where he works for the Director of Campus Activities.  When the school wants a student representative on the committee to plan for the new athletics complex, he interviews and is selected.  The summer before his senior year, the Director of Campus Activities hires him for a full time summer internship to coordinate student volunteers.  He does such a great job that they allow him to trim his hours and continue working during his senior year.  All the while, he's creating lifelong friendships and enjoying the fun that college has to offer.  He flourishes inside and outside of the classroom.  He graduates with honors, with a resume of experience, with professors and mentors who can advise him and serve as references, and with a lifetime worth of college memories.

Student #2 attends a highly selective, famous private college.  He majors in business because that's what he always said he wanted to major in.  He meets with his advisor only when he's required to and never fully avails himself of that resource.  He doesn't visit professors during their office hours.  He attends most, but not all of his classes, and is naturally smart enough to study the night before the test and pull off "B." He does fine academically, but certainly doesn't love his classes.  He plays intramural sports and makes some good friends, but doesn't ever seek out or locate an activity that he's passionate about.  During his college summers, he hangs out with his friends and has the occasional part time job to make extra spending money.  He doesn't cultivate any professional relationships with people who could serve as mentors or recommenders.  He makes some good friends and has his share of fun, but if you ask him, he really likes, but doesn't necessarily love college.  He graduates with a degree in business from a famous university, but no real experience other than his part-time summer jobs.  

So, who had the better college education?  Which student is likely to be more successful after college?  Which student got the best value for his college education?

The student is the variable in every college's education.  That's why it is almost impossible to measure with any degree of accuracy the potential quality and value of any one particular school.   

The best funded university in the world with small classes, plenty of support and loads of Nobel Prize winning professors won't be worth its tuition to the student who isn't willing to take advantage of those resources.  And the cheap public school that makes no appearance in the annual college rankings can become the launching pad to success for the right student who is naturally inclined to work hard and achieve his goals. 

Yes, you should be cost conscious when choosing colleges.  You should ask what you're going to get for your money.  And you should evaluate the spending decision just like you would with any purchase of a similar magnitude.  To do anything other than that would be irresponsible.

But it's important to remember that colleges don't make kids successful–kids have to do that for themselves.  A student's work ethic, curiosity, initiative, integrity and maturity–and what she does to apply those traits during her time in college–will have far greater influence over her happiness and post-college success than the name of her college will.  

If you want to get the most bang for your college buck, start your evaluation with the variable–the student.  Think about the kind of environment where a student would flourish, the kind of place where she can put her natural talents to the best use.  Then find the colleges that match that description.  Don't do it the other way around; don't pick famous colleges because you're sure they're "good" and then try to find a way to get accepted.

In college, you don't automatically get what you pay for.  You have to make your own value.

“Insert name of college here”

College applicants could learn a lot from successful (and unsuccessful) job applicants. 

A friend of mine is applying for a job she really wants. Today, she asked me to read over her cover letter and give her some feedback.  This woman is wonderful.  She's smart, talented, likable, totally committed to her work, and I think the company (or any company) would be crazy not to hire her. 

But I had to be honest and tell her that her letter had an "Insert name of company here" feeling that wouldn't help her stand out.

In today's economy, job applicants feel pressured to play the numbers, to apply to as many employers as possible in the hopes that one will invite them for an interview.  And they have to do so under the pressure of deadlines and the reality that if nobody says "Yes," they're unemployed.

So a lot of applicants resort to a general cover letter, one that describes past employment experiences and cites the applicants' strengths, like, "I am very dependable and deadline-oriented," or "I show great initiative and am comfortable taking a leadership role," or "I believe my skills and talents are a good match with this job."  Then they recycle the letter at as many companies as possible changing only the name of the employer (though I admit that I've received cover letters from people who even forgot to do that–and I didn't hire them).

That's the approach my friend took.

A cover letter like that isn't going to make you stand out from all the other qualified applicants.  Job seekers need to show employers that they have thoughtfully considered each potential position, that they've identified why they believe they're a good match, and most importantly, they need to do so in a way that doesn't sound like anyone else.  It's not enough to tell them that you're "Dependable, honest and trustworthy."  You've got to help them see those traits with relevant, specific, compelling examples.  It's not easy, but it's what you have to do.

Students often approach the college application process the same way, applying to as many colleges as possible, using and re-using your application essays, and (hopefully) substituting the right name of each college. 

It doesn't work in job applications.  And it doesn't work in college applications, either. 

The good news for students is that college admissions doesn't have to be a numbers game.  There are over 2,000 colleges in the country. Only about 100 of them actually reject more than a small percentage of their applicants.  And over two dozen except literally every student who applies.

So don't try to play the college admissions numbers.  Don't apply to 5 Ivy League schools, Stanford, Duke, Georgetown and Northwestern and then hope for the best.  Those schools all reject the vast majority of their applicants.  Applying to as many of them as possible with recycled applications doesn't improve your chances; in fact, since your applications will have an "insert name of college here" feeling, you've actually hurt your chances taking that approach.  You've turned college admissions into a numbers game that you can't win.

Instead, don't be so concerned with whether or not a college is famous.  Find the colleges that are right for you.  Spend your application space showing them how you arrived at your decision to apply and why you would be excited to be a freshman there.  Be thoughtful and deliberate.   

And whatever you do, don't be an "insert name of college here" applicant.

50 things…

Here are fifty things you can do in college, even if the school isn't a famous one. 

  1. Eat late night pizza in the dorms.
  2. Take road trips.
  3. Play intramural basketball games.  At midnight.
  4. Choose classes you want to take.
  5. See how many straight nights you can eat spaghetti.
  6. Be a resident advisor in the dorms.
  7. Do research in physics with a professor.
  8. Meet your future husband or wife.
  9. Meet the person who will one day be your maid of honor or best man.
  10. Paint your face in the school's colors for the big game.
  11. Have a professor who tells you that she sees great potential in your work.
  12. Enjoy late night conversations with your new friends in the dorm.
  13. Create memories with your friends that will make you smile when you're fifty.
  14. Write for the campus newspaper.
  15. Sit with a professor during her office hours and realize you're chatting with the person who wrote the textbook you're using in class.
  16. Play mud football games on Sundays.
  17. Study abroad in Italy.  Or Greece.  Or Australia. 
  18. Pull an all nighter studying with your friends.
  19. Go to parties.  Good ones.
  20. Participate in campus traditions.
  21. Sing (obscene) songs to your college's rival at the homecoming game.
  22. Work a part-time job at the campus coffee shop, or the library, or at the restaurant in town.
  23. Discover your academic passions.
  24. Play in the school's marching band.
  25. Participate in the engineering Olympics.
  26. Feel like you're getting a little smarter every day.
  27. Realize that you are actually excited to attend your classes.
  28. Leave everything you didn't like about high school behind.
  29. Go on a camping trip with your new friends.
  30. Find an internship in a career that looks interesting.
  31. Meet mentors who will help you reach your potential.
  32. Celebrate the end of finals week with your fellow students.
  33. Take a class that has absolutely nothing to do with your major just because it looks interesting.
  34. Go to the school's football games.  Or the basketball games.  Or the hockey games.
  35. Spend Thanksgiving with a friend's family because they live closer to campus.
  36. Camp out to get basketball tickets.
  37. Eat Top Ramen, or cereal, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner.
  38. Write a senior thesis on a subject you get to pick.
  39. Spend your summer getting career experience in an area you find interesting.
  40. Study in the park.  In between Frisbee tossing.
  41. Excel academically and enjoy what you're learning.
  42. Make the kind of friends you know will be in your life for a very long time.
  43. Do community service with your college friends.
  44. Find your natural talents and interests.
  45. Discover what you want to do with your life.
  46. Do things that, one day, your kids won't be able to imagine mom or dad doing.
  47. Join a fraternity or sorority.
  48. Participate in an outdoor education program.
  49. Graduate and marvel at how far you've come, how much you've grown, and how much you've learned over the last four years.
  50. See how proud your parents are at your graduation.

How many of those are actually factored into the US News College rankings?

Some advice on choosing activities…

What you choose to do outside the classroom, and the passion with which you pursue it, tells the colleges a lot about the potential impact you are likely to make on their campuses.  As you think about how you want to spend your time outside the classroom, here are some pointers to keep in mind:

1.  Start with what you already know and like.
Think about what you like, and ask yourself, "What else could I do in this area?"  For example, if your passion is sports, there are a lot of ways to get involved.  Join a team at your school.  Be the manager of the baseball team.  Write the sports column for the school newspaper.  Be the announcer at the basketball games.  Take pictures of sports for the yearbook.  No matter what you like to do, if you commit yourself to it, the colleges will be impressed.

2.  Don't be a "joiner."

Don't sign up for every club on campus to try and make the colleges
think you were involved.  A long list of activities alone isn't going
to impress the colleges as much as a substantial commitment will.  Pick
the things you really enjoy instead of padding your resume.

3.  Always try to make an impact.
When you graduate from high school, what
legacy will you leave behind in your involvements?  It might be
something big, like the fact that you founded an organization that
raised $12,000 for Juvenile Diabetes.  It might be something small,
like the fact that even though you rarely played, you still got the
Coach's Award on the soccer team because of your dedication.  Whatever
you do, find a way to make contributions in your own way.  Colleges
like the students who make an impact wherever they are.

4.  Never ask, "Would (insert activity here) look good?"

Every time one of our Collegewise students asks us this, we make that
student go run a lap around our offices.  OK, not really, but that
question is like fingernails on the blackboard for us, and for the
colleges.  Instead, ask yourself, "Am I really interested in this, and
does is seem like something to which I could commit to substantially?"
If the answer is "yes," you're probably on the right track.

5.  Never quit an activity you enjoy just because you aren't succeeding.
If you love being on the soccer team even though you spend most of your time on the bench, don't
quit!  Colleges understand that you're not going to be great at
everything you do.  Besides, it takes just as much fortitude to stick
with something that's challenging as it does to continue in an activity
where everybody is always telling you how great you are.

Conversely, if you don't like an activity, get out!  If you hate every
second of wrestling and you got beaten so badly at the last match that
your liver fell out, stop.  Don’t wrestle anymore.  Find something else
that you enjoy where you won’t be slammed into a mat quite so often.

A tip for Skidmore College applicants–get pithy

I've written several articles as part of this series describing how to handle essays that ask why you're applying to the school, or how you believe you will contribute once you get there.  The most important advice I've given is to be specific and personal.  Inject enough detail so nobody else can write the same essay you're writing. 

But Skidmore College throws a little a wrinkle into that question–their supplemental essay questions only give you 700 characters to play with.  

700 characters is about a paragraph of text, maybe 100 words.  So you can go two directions here.  You can give them generic responses that will spend 100 words saying the same things that everyone else says, or you can get pithy.

Pithy means brief, forceful and meaningful in expression.  You have to say a lot in a short space.  That means you have to do away with everything that isn't absolutely necessary, and make your points forcefully and clearly.  

Here's an example (unrelated to college admissions).  Let's say you want to express that you think the best way to eat a steak is to let the natural flavors come through, without adding any steak sauce to it (you'd be right, by the way).  This is not pithy:

"There are many different ways to prepare and serve steak.  But whether you broil, grill or fry it, it's important that you retain good flavoring.  Flavoring, after all, is what makes the steak enjoyable.  Many people like to put sauces on their steak, such as A1.  Other people prefer to use rubs composed of various herbs and spices which they rub into the meat before cooking it.  They believe that additional sauce or seasoning improves the taste and enhances a steak's natural flavors.  In fact, some people actually like the flavor of the sauce more than they like the steak.  I, however, believe that a perfectly cooked…"

OK, seriously, at what point did I lose you?  I'm sure you hung in there as long as you could, but wouldn't it have been better if I had just said…"

"I think people who pour cheap steak sauce on an expensive steak should be prosecuted in the court of law.  How could any sane person do that and still sleep at night?"

Bam.  That's pithy.  My point is made.  And it's got oomph. 

[Read more…]

Advice for applicants to Saint Mary’s College of California

The internet and tools like the Common Application have allowed many students to apply to colleges somewhat indiscriminately, firing off applications without being able to give a cogent reason for why they're applying to each particular school.  That actually gives you a huge opportunity at smaller colleges like Saint Mary's College of California who reward the applicants behind thoughtful applications.

St. Mary's supplement to the Common Application requires you to submit two short-answer questions and a longer essay of 500 words.  And for the applicant who really takes the time to provide thoughtful responses, there's a lot of opportunity to help St. Mary's get to know you better, and to give them even more reasons to admit you.

Briefly describe how you learned about Saint Mary's College and why it is one of your college choices.

When a college asks you a question like this, they're looking for evidence that you are a mature college shopper who's thought about your future in college and what you want it to look like.  And they want to understand how, after that thoughtful introspection, you decided to add their little school to your list when you could have picked any of over 2,000 other colleges. 

The more specific you can be here, the better.  Don't just say,

"I heard about St. Mary's from a friend and I was very interested." 

How does that help the college learn anything at all about you (other than the fact that you reportedly have "a friend")?  They want to learn something about how you and St. Mary's were originally introduced.  What if you said,

"Surprisingly, I learned about St. Mary's during a visit to UCLA.  I went with a friend to tour the campus and we had two completely different reactions.  She felt like she had found her future college; I was totally overwhelmed.  I don't know if it was because I'm a little shy or because I went to a small high school, but I was intimidated by so many people on such a large campus.  We talked about it on the way home and she told me her older sister visited St. Mary's when she was applying to college and thought it seemed really comfortable.  Then she said, 'You should check it out.'  I'm glad I listened to her." 

Now they've learned something about you.  And it's believable.  Anybody can say they heard about a school and it was interesting, or that they visited the college and loved it.  But if you inject enough detail into the story, it becomes much more believable.

And when you're explaining why St. Mary's is one of your college choices, keep the focus on you.  They don't need to know that St. Mary's has a pretty campus or that it's small or that the students seem nice.  Remember, they work there.  And they do so presumably by choice.  They know what's great about St. Mary's.  What they don't know is why you think you would flourish there.

"Small classes" alone is not a reason to apply to a particular college.  But…

"I have never worked as hard to learn as I did during my sophomore English class.  My teacher told me she saw potential in my writing and took the time to help me improve.  She pushed me to be better, and it worked.  I’d never had a teacher take such a personal interest in me; now I know how I respond when one does.  That's an experience I want to repeat over and over again in college." 

That is a reason to apply.

"I visited and the students seemed very nice" is something that could have happened on a lot of college campuses.  But…

"I visited St. Mary's last summer.  Mostly because of my own insecurities, I felt like I was wearing a t-shirt that read, 'I'm a lowly high school student visiting today.'  I must have looked completely lost because, well, I was.  That’s when two girls stopped to ask me if I needed help finding something.  They couldn’t have been nicer, and from that second on, I felt more comfortable.  I spent the next hour imagining myself walking around next fall wearing a St. Mary's College' sweatshirt.   Something about that just feels right."  

Now we're talking.  That's a student who's thought about this. 

This answer is limited to 500 characters when you're filling out the supplemental form online, which about 80 words (a short paragraph). That means you're going to need to be brief, forceful, and very specific.  Don't wallow in generalities.  Get right to the point.

Now, on to the next prompt.

What is your favorite subject in high school, and why?

Why would they ask this?  They ask it because lots of students get great grades so they can get into college, but not all of them necessarily love to learn.  That's an important distinction, one that St. Mary's is interested in evaluating. 

One of the most amazing things about college is the opportunity for learning.  Not drudgery where you plod through homework assignments just to get them done.  I'm talking about learning things that fascinate you, learning things that make you excited to go to class, and learning them from professors who've spent their professional lives studying this subject matter.   

Students who love to learn make the most of that opportunity, especially at a small school like St. Mary's.  Will you actively seek out the subjects that interest you?  Will you be an engaged student who's excited to be there?  Will you visit professors during office hours, meet with your academic adviser and talk to TA's when you have questions? 

Good grades on your high school transcript are evidence that you are intelligent and willing to work hard (which are still good things).   But they aren't necessarily evidence of a love of learning.  A story about your favorite subject in high school, however, can be. 

Think of a time when you were really interested in what you were learning.  What made you so interested?  Was the subject itself fascinating?  Did the teacher make it fascinating for you?  How did you treat this favorite subject differently than your other subjects?  Did you visit the teacher after class, do additional reading to learn more, participate in class, or even just look forward to that particular class every day?  That's what St. Mary's wants to learn about in this particular answer. 

Whatever course you describe, focus on why you loved it and how you treated it differently.  There is no "wrong answer" here (although I wouldn't recommend that you tell them, "I loved my geology course because the teacher let us sleep and goof off all day").  

One more prompt to go…

The ability to learn from one’s mistakes is key to personal growth and success. Tell us about what you learned from a mistake you’ve made.

Gonzaga University asks a similar question on their application, and I wrote an extensive entry on how to handle it here.  The one difference is that Gonzaga asks about a "failure," while St. Mary's asks about a mistake.  That's a subtle but important difference.  Here's why.

You can do everything right and still fail.  You can try your best, do exactly what you were supposed to do, and still lose a race, be passed over for a leadership position, or not make the varsity team.  None of those things are necessarily due to any act on your part.

But a "mistake" is all you.  You have to own up to it, accept responsibility and explain what you're doing now (or not doing now) as a result of that experience. 

St. Mary's is one of those wonderful schools where you don't necessarily need straight A's, perfect test scores, and a certificate proclaiming that you invented hydrogen to get accepted.  But you'll need to acknowledge the opportunity you're being given on the St. Mary's application.  Don't just race through those responses in an effort to get your application done. Be thoughtful in your responses and you're more likely to find a thoughtful letter of acceptance in return. 

Note:  Before you follow our tips, we recommend you read our "How to" guide here: Download HowToUse30Guides

And if you have other questions about essays, applications, interviews or financial aid, visit our online store.  We’ve got books, videos and downloadable guides to help you.  Or you could speak with one of our online college counselors.

Essay advice for Bucknell applicants

A college doesn't necessarily need to require a novel's worth of essays to evaluate and better understand their applicants.  Take Bucknell University, for example. 

Bucknell applicants will likely be pleasantly surprised to find that Bucknell’s Common Application supplement contains just one additional required essay and a second that's optional.  But if you make the most of those two requirements, you can really help a Bucknell admissions officer learn more about you in ways that your application alone would not reveal. 

Here are a few tips on how to approach the Bucknell essays. 

Before you do anything, read the directions.

You can learn a lot about what a college is looking for by just reading the directions. Here are the directions for Bucknell's supplemental essays:

The following questions are your opportunity to demonstrate, within the context of the Common Application, what makes you uncommon and uniquely you. In your responses, be bold and have some fun – really! Tell us about your talents and interests so that we can know the “you” behind the transcripts.

A lot of students will totally ignore those directions and write about things that are common, that are not unique to them, and they will do so in a way that is anything but bold or fun.  They’ll hide behind safe stories about being diligent and determined, or how they learned valuable life lessons through student government, or how community service taught them that it’s important to help people.  Responses like that make you sound like every other applicant.  That's not good. 

[Read more…]

Advice for University of Washington Hopefuls

While grades and test scores are important, the University of Washington makes it clear to applicants that UW wants to get to know you and what you can contribute to their campus.  Here are a few of the tips we give to our Collegewise students that can help you make the most of that opportunity.

1.  Spend the time to show UW you are more than just your numbers.

The UW application has two required essays, an optional third essay, and an activities log.  Successful applicants see this not as a burden, but an opportunity to show sides of themselves that grades and test scores can’t convey.   So set aside enough time to reflect on and write the stories you want to share.  The time and attention you give to their application will be an indication of just how interested you really are in UW, so make sure you’re proud of what your application says about you.

2. Before you write the essays, read all the directions, including the tips.
We know that “Read the directions” isn’t exactly groundbreaking advice.   But the essay section of the UW application includes not only the essay prompts, but also tips to help you choose appropriate stories.  Don’t ignore these!  The admissions office is coming right out and telling you what they’re interested in learning more about.  You’re getting guidance from the officers themselves.  So listen to their advice.  Before you dive in and start writing, take the time to read and think about the prompts and the accompanying tips.

3. When writing the short essay, the key is to think about your appreciation of differences. 

The short-answer questions about how you’ll contribute to the campus diversity, or to relate a personal experience with cultural differences, are really asking you to think more about UW’s diverse environment.  The UW student body comes from all different backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints.  Students who are happiest at UW enroll hoping to meet and learn from people who are different from them.  They look for ways to share their own backgrounds and viewpoints with other members of the campus community.  Are you excited to do those things?  What life experiences have you had that make you want UW’s diverse environment for your college experience?  What could you contribute to, and learn from, your fellow UW students?   Express your appreciation for those potential opportunities in your short-answer responses.

4. Make the most of your activity summary paragraphs.

UW invites you to write “a substantial paragraph” about up to five of your most significant activities.  This is a huge opportunity for you to share insight into the activity that you could never reveal in a simple resume.  For example, one of our former Collegewise students who went on to be a Husky wrote about how she was painfully shy until she got a job at the drive-through window at a fast food restaurant, and that taking customers’ orders actually made her a much more outgoing, sociable person.  That never would have been evident to an admissions officer had she just listed the basic facts about her job.  Share more.  UW wants to know!

5.  Share legitimate hardship, but don’t create it.

Buying into a misguided notion that hardship equals some sort of admissions advantage, many students manufacture hardship when applying to a college, taking a circumstance that might not have been so challenging, but presenting it as if it were.  This is always a mistake.  If you’ve experienced a hardship or other life challenge that has impacted your education, UW wants to know about it—they’ll consider your application in light of your circumstances.  But if you’re manufacturing hardship, UW will probably know it.  It’s not worth the risk.  Share another part of your life that will likely be much more interesting and effective.

Note:  Before you follow our tips, we recommend you read our “How to” guide here: Download HowToUse30Guides

And if you have other questions about essays, applications, interviews or financial aid, visit our online store.  We’ve got books, videos and downloadable guides to help you.  Or you could speak with one of our online college counselors.

Start spreadin’ the NYU (tips)

If you can make it there…well, you know the saying about New York City.  If you're hoping to call the Big Apple home and attend NYU (New York University) during your college years, here are a few tips to help you get there.

1.  Be sure to read the "Application Do's and Don'ts Guide" on the NYU admissions website. 

This might seem like an obvious thing to do, but a lot of applicants ignore this kind of available advice from the admissions officers themselves (and that's a bad idea).  Read the guide carefully.  The admissions committee is being very clear about what they want and don't want you to do.  Pay particular attention to this:

"Read and follow instructions. Please don't decide that you have a 'better' way. We wouldn't ask you to do something in a certain way unless it was important that you do it that way." 

If only every college were so direct.  

2.  Pay close attention to the testing requirements.

NYU's testing requirements are unlike those at most colleges.  You can submit the SAT or ACT, or specific combinations of SAT Subject Tests, or specific AP exam scores.  This can really allow a student to put her best testing foot forward.  So make sure you review the options carefully on the NYU website, and select the test option that puts you in the best testing light.

3. Consider that a desire to be "in the city" is more of a pre-requisite than it is a reason to apply.

In their essays to NYU, a lot of students write about a desire to go to college in New York City.  But a desire to be in New York should pretty much be a given if you do in fact want to go to college at NYU.   We're mentioning this here because NYU, like all selective colleges, is looking for evidence of a thoughtful college search and a potential match with their student community.  So don't just decide that New York seems exciting and stop there.  Really think about why life as a college student in NYC would really enhance your college experience, and what you would do to make the most of that opportunity.

4. Make the most of the personal statement essays.

NYU's Common Application supplement has four required essays.  Well, it's actually three required essays and one "haiku, limerick or short poem that best describes you."  Successful applicants won't lament the requirement to write so many essays, and they won't hide behind answers that are contrived to impress.  They'll have fun writing the haiku, imagining the movie being made in 2050 about their life and selecting a famous New Yorker to spend a day with.  They'll use those opportunities to reveal their personalities.  They'll be honest enough to show that they're just the type of self-aware, introspective, sometimes wry, sometimes sassy, sometimes self deprecating students that seem to choose (and thrive at) NYU.   

Here are some prompt-specific tips:

If you had the opportunity to spend one day in New York City with a famous New Yorker, who would it be and what would you do? (Your New Yorker can be anyone -past or present, fictional or nonfictional – who is commonly associated with New York City; they do not necessarily have to have been born and raised in New York.)

This is one of those prompts that can expose kids who haven’t given serious consideration to the school.  If you’ve really thought about what it would be like to live in New York City, you’ll have some idea about how you want to spend your days, and you probably have paid attention to who some famous New Yorkers are.  You've thought about the city and what you'd like to do there.  So this opportunity to spend a day with a famous New Yorker would probably be an exciting one.  

As with all essay questions, this should be about you, not about New York or the famous person.  The answer should reveal something about yourself and your personality.

For example, the Beatles fanatic could talk about John Lennon (who specifically left England to live in New York City) and what a fantastic day it could be just visiting local guitar shops, hanging out in The Village drinking coffee and talking music with him, how you could finally ask him the truth about the lyric in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and find out whether or not he and Paul still liked each other. 

That answer reveals something about the writer.  It doesn’t just regurgitate information about New York City that the reader already knows.

In the year 2050, a movie is being made of your life. Please tell us the name of your movie and briefly summarize the story line.

This question and the limerick one after it are good examples of essay questions reflecting the personality of the school and the student body.  Students at NYU would have fun with a question like this if you posed it to them, even if they weren’t studying anything to do with film.  It’s just that kind of environment where people enjoy creativity and self-expression.  So NYU asks it in part to help identify students who embrace that culture. 

It doesn’t matter what the title or the story line is as long as you inject your own personality into it and help the reader get to know something about you.

Write a haiku, limerick, or short (eight lines or less) poem that best represents you.

Again, true NYU-ers will have a field day with this.  They won’t get frustrated with having to write “some stupid poem.”  They’ll want to do it.  They’ll wish that other college applications allowed them to do it.  It’s those students who are mostly likely to accept an offer of admission from NYU, and who are most likely to thrive once they get there. 

So let loose with this one.  Don’t plod along trying to create something impressive.  Be playful, serious, introspective—whatever you think represents you.    

Please tell us what led you to select your anticipated academic program and/or NYU school/college, and what interests you most about your intended discipline.

In spite of the fact that college is first and foremost, well, school, a lot of students give surprisingly little thought to questions like this.  NYU wants to know that you're not just looking forward to Central Park in fall and all that great New York pizza, but that you're also excited about the academic journey you're about to take. 

You've only got 500 characters (about one paragraph) to work with here.  So you're going to need to make your points clearly and forcefully.  And you'll need to do so in a way that focuses on you more than it does NYU.  That's how you distinguish yourself in a question like this, by writing something nobody else could write.

For example, any potential business major could write,

"Business has always interested me.  I find the combination of so many elements, from marketing to accounting to sales, fascinating.  NYU has an excellent reputation, and New York City will also provide me many opportunities to find internships where I can gain valuable experience." 

First of all, what teenager that you know talks like that?  Secondly, he just wrote the same essay that a lot of other NYU business major hopefuls will write.  And worst of all, he just told the admissions committee things about NYU that they already know.

Let them hear your academic excitement.  Show NYU that you've given appropriate thought to the major you’ve selected and why you want to pursue it.  What if this applicant above turned it around and said,

“I learned something working at my dad’s mortgage company–business isn't always fun.  I saw how much my dad worried especially as the economy started to go south.  It wasn't easy for him.  But I also saw how engaged he was in his work.  He loves what he does because it's hard, not in spite of it.  I'm a lot like my father.  I’m applying as a business major not because it seems fun, but because I want to get up in the morning and feel just as excited to go to class as I did to go to my job.”

Now we’ve gotten to know something about him, something we wouldn’t have known from the rest of his application.  And there’s an energy there, something that makes us believe he’s not just checking the “business” box because he doesn’t know what else to check. 

It takes a certain kind of student to get in, to attend, and to ultimately succeed at NYU.  And their application is designed to give you the opportunity to show that you’re one of them.  The best matched NYU students are independent, thoughtful and expressive.  They would never try to hide those qualities.  So bring them out here in your essay responses, and never hide behind language where you’re just trying to impress.

Note:  Before you follow our tips, we recommend you read our "How to" guide here: Download PreviewHowToUse30Guides

And if you have other questions about essays, applications, interviews or financial aid, visit our online store.  We’ve got books, videos and downloadable guides to help you.  Or you could speak with one of our online college counselors.

Looking for a long-term relationship with the University of Puget Sound?

Going to college is a lot like getting married. 

Stay with me–I'm going somewhere with this.

The University of Puget Sound only asks for three short responses in their supplement to the Common Application.  But there's a lot going on in those three short responses, which means that if you make the most of the opportunity they're giving you, you can tell them a lot about yourself, about your interest in the school, and about your likelihood of attending (the aforementioned marital analogy will come into play later).

Here are UPS's supplemental essay questions with some Collegewise tips.

1. What are three words you would use to most aptly describe yourself?

We'll put it this way.  Here are three sample responses from three totally made up applicants.  Which one would you like to have as your roommate?

    A. Diligent, determined, trustworthy

    B. Musical, clumsy, lovable

    C. Honorable, tenacious, dedicated

Most readers would pick applicant B because there's a spark of personality there.  She didn't shy away from telling the truth.  I learned more about her from those three words than I did from the words the other two chose.  Plus, she’s just likeable (and to accomplish that in only three words isn't easy).

Don't over think this question.  There really are no right or wrong answers (although I'd shy away from "cranky" "aggressive," and "dangerous").  If you hide behind words you hope will make you sound impressive, you'll miss out on the chance to be likeable.  Pick words that really do describe you and have fun with it.   

2.  How did you first learn about Puget Sound?

Imagine you asked your boyfriend or girlfriend to recall the first time you met.  What's the difference between these two responses?

"One of our friends introduced us at a party, I think.  I'm pretty sure it was sophomore year."

Or…

"We were in AP Chemistry together and were paired up to do a lab project during the second week of school.  I remember how stupid I felt wearing the apron and goggles and you kept making me laugh by telling me I was probably feeling awkward because you looked so fantastic in your chic lab attire.  I knew I liked you then." 

Note to the guys reading this–there really is a difference between those two.

Colleges feel the same way when they ask you how you first learned about them.  They want to see that there's already some history to this potential relationship.  So don't just write, "My high school counselor told me about UPS and it seemed very interesting."  Tell them the whole story.  What were you and your counselor discussing?  What did you think, at the time, was the right college for you?  Why did she bring up UPS?  What did she say to you about it? 

Be as specific as you can be in this answer and you'll show UPS that you recall vividly the first day you met.

3.  In 300 words or less, please discuss why you are interested in attending Puget Sound.

Here's your opportunity to show that you've really imagined you and UPS spending your college years together (that's the marital analogy right there, by the way).  Applying is non-committal.  It's like a first date.  Maybe it'll work out and maybe it won't.  But attending is a long-term commitment.  And colleges want to know which applicants have long-term relationship potential. 

As with all school's who ask this question about your desire to attend, it's important that your response not be all about them, but rather, all about you.   Don't just recite statistics about class sizes or rely on the old standby, "You have a beautiful campus" or the even more common, "It's a great school."  You're just telling them things about UPS that they already know.

If you're serious about attending UPS, give them the real reasons why you think you'd be happy there.  Why, specifically, will you be excited if an acceptance is offered to you? Tell them about an experience you've had that made you consider an academic program at UPS.  Or share something you've learned about yourself and your expectations for college that match with the UPS environment.  Or help them understand what you were thinking and feeling when you visited UPS and felt like you'd found your college. 

This is where you get to demonstrate that you're serious about a potential long-term relationship with the college.  So show them that you've imagined yourselves together.

We'll back off of the relationship analogies for now.  But sometimes, they're just too effective to pass up.

Note:  Before you follow our tips, we recommend you read our "How to" guide here: Download HowToUse30Guides

And if you have other questions about essays, applications, interviews or financial aid, visit our online store.  We’ve got books, videos and downloadable guides to help you.  Or you could speak with one of our online college counselors.