2 10, 2014

Common App College Essay Prompts and How to Master Them for Your Ivy League Application!

By | 2017-04-17T22:51:49+00:00 October 2nd, 2014|Brown, College Admissions, Columbia, Common App, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, Ivy League|1 Comment

So, it’s official.  You’ve decided it’s time to start working on your Common App. Good for you!  Great even.  You’re not procrastinating!  That is, until you looked at the prompts and thought, “I have absolutely NO IDEA what to say, let alone guess what the colleges are even looking for.”  This thought perhaps made you panicked, sick, ill, malaised (i.e. good SAT word, write it down), and forced you to have visions of working at a donut shop for the rest of your life, (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Perhaps you had plans though of potentially setting off for Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or some other picturesque U.S. school to watch football games, meet great life-long friends, STUDY and get an excellent education, and just do something incredibly solid and interesting with your life…but then messed it all up with the Common App and destroyed the dream.  Done.  OVER.  Donut?

Well, stop worrying.  We’re going to go through the prompts one by one, and if you take away my key points from each of the questions, you’re going to do more than fine.

Prompt #1Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

This essay is a great chance to show your uniqueness, your individuality, what makes you different, and college admissions officers LOVE different.  Did you hear that? They read so many applications, that they truly gravitate towards those students who are unique and stand out.  So, do you have something unique in your background?  Have you done something unusual?  Is there something different about your family that makes you interesting?  Here is where you write about what makes you different from others in your school. What does make you different from your friends.   Remember, different = interesting.

PROMPT #2: Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

Make sure you answer each of the questions stated in this prompt and you’ll do fine.  Mostly though, you want to pick a negative experience (a “failure”) that then has a positive spin — that shows your self-reflection and ability to pick yourself up and move forward stronger than before!  This essay is a good choice if STRENGTH and FORTITUDE are two of your major traits.

PROMPT #3: Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

This essay is here to show your character.  What are you passionate about?  What are you willing to stand up for, even in the face of adversity? As with prompt #2, make sure you address all of the questions within the question – that is part of what you are being tested on.  This essay is a good choice if you have very strong morals and values and are willing to make a public stand.  Always be aware of your audience though, and take into consideration how things will be perceived by the admissions committee.  In other words, choose your battles wisely.

PROMPT #4: Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

I like this essay, as it is the most creative.  Again, make sure you address all three points, and focus equally on description as well as self-reflection: why this is meaningful to YOU.  I’ve read very lyrical essays that describe a place, only to not understand its significance for the student.  Similarly, I’ve read very factual essays for this prompt that have no description or emotional feeling or language. Balance both, and do it in a creative way, and you’ll win by giving your reader insight into your world.

PROMPT #5: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

What the admissions committee is looking for here, is growth. Your growth.  That moment when your world changed.  Pick an event that clearly shows how you were before, and then how you were different after.  Again, as with the other essays, they are looking for self-reflection.  This essay also allows for a lot of creativity and I have found sometimes the smaller, less formal and more personal events or moments in life make for the best, most moving essays – and that advice goes for all of the prompts, above.

[I’m a former Harvard interviewer and a Harvard graduate, and currently run the college admissions firm IVY LEAGUE ESSAY.com.  Like more help on your Common App or college applications? Contact me for a free consultation today!  www.IvyLeagueEssay.com ]

10 06, 2013

3 Expert Tips to Get Into an Ivy League College!

By | 2017-04-17T22:51:49+00:00 June 10th, 2013|College Admissions|1 Comment

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It’s that time of year again, when high school seniors hoping to get into an Ivy League college stare desperately at the Common App and supplemental college admission essay questions and ask themselves:

1. What are the Ivy League colleges really looking for?

2. How can I make my Ivy League application stand out?

3. Do I even have a chance of getting in to the Ivy League?

Let’s address these questions one-by-one, but first of all, for those of you who don’t know (or maybe aren’t sure) the Ivy League is made up of 8 colleges and universities including Harvard, Yale and Princeton (which are considered the “Top 3”) and then Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania.

One shouldn’t forget though, that there are also a handful of other extremely competitive schools that are considered to be on par with the Ivy League, such as Stanford, MIT and Duke University, just to name a few.  So…

  1. What is it that the schools are really looking for (especially when talking about Ivy League colleges)?

I believe that the answer can be found in two words: confidence and individuality.

In other words, yes, your grades are important, yes, your test scores need to be as high as possible, yes, you need to have a strong assortment of as many AP courses as you can fit in your arsenal,  but once you have all of that (because why would you be applying to an Ivy League college if you didn’t think you could compete at that academic level with your peers) the next important thing is: YOUR UNIQUE EXPERIENCE.

By this I mean things in your background that make you different, that are going to make you stand out to an Ivy League college admissions committee. Things that are going to make you different than simply being “another suburban high school student from New Jersey,” or “just” another kid from a private school in Massachusetts or New York.

Not to say that the top schools don’t accept A LOT of students who fall into these two categories (believe me, they do)… but your competition if you’re coming from these categories is going to be stronger because of that highly competitive applicant pool and because college admissions officers like to diversify.

  • The answer to question #2 then is that, no matter what your background, you should always, always, always ask yourself, HOW ARE YOU DIFFERENT and then try to highlight that

In other words, what is it in your background that makes you unique? That’s what Ivy League college admissions officers want to see as they paint a picture of you in their mind. You will increase your chances astronomically, if you give them something to paint with.

So, were you raised in a poor village in India before immigrating to the U.S.? Did your family move here from Russia? Is your family in politics?  Are you training for the Olympics in ice skating, or skiing, or do you compete at a very high level in equestrian sports? Have you built your own guitar?  Have you studied ballet in NYC since the age of 8? Did you grow up in a fishing community in Alaska, or was yours the only Jewish family in a Southern Baptist community in the deep South? Have you served in the U.S. Army? Is anyone in your family famous, or extremely well-known in their field?  Is anyone a legacy at the Ivy League college you’re applying to? Do you own any patents? Or, are you a budding biotech or real estate entrepreneur even though you’re still in high school who started their own company from the ground up (regardless if it failed).

All the above are true stories from admission essays in the past. All are very interesting and obviously make the student STAND OUT.

And, that is what an Ivy League college admissions committee is looking for, and this is the big secret that will give you an edge:  tell them something interesting. Everyone in my opinion, has done something of interest in their life, even if they are too close to it perhaps to really see it for themselves.  Think about what makes you different from your peers.

So, should you even apply to an Ivy League college if you don’t have these things, or is it just a waste of time? Will you even have a chance? Yes, you have a chance, a good chance — if you have the grades, and the test scores, and the academic background and some interesting academic or life experience. You are then, as they put it, a “contender.”

  • So now question #3, –  will you get in? That’s the wrong question. Change the question instead to, “can I paint an interesting picture of who I am and where I want to go in life?”

Then craft that into a properly formed college admissions essay, and make sure you speak with clarity, insight into your own experience, truth, emotion, and confidence.

All these together become the first step to getting you into the Ivy League college of your dreams!

[ Need help on your own college applications or Ivy League admission essays? I’m a former Harvard admissions interviewer and Harvard graduate, and currently run the firm: www.IvyLeagueEssay.com Request more information or schedule a free consultation today!]