There are many schools that allow you to apply early, usually around November 1st. I highly highly recommend that you take this opportunity. Do your best to get started on this app as early as possible (I recommend around mid-August). You’ll thank yourself later for applying early because: 1. You’re accepted to a school in December and you don’t have to worry about any other apps, and / or 2. You’ve done a significant amount of work applying early, and that in turn takes off a big chunk of work for all the other regular deadlines. When you apply to a school early, you will want to apply to your first choice school. Don’t worry so much about application numbers or what your peers are doing. This is your school and you are deciding where you are going to spend your next four years, no one else. That said, here are some of the different types early applications that schools offer: Restrictive Early Action (REA): With Restrictive Early Action, you can only apply to one school early. If you get in, that’s great, but you still have the freedom to apply to more schools if you choose. This is basically only offered at the top-tier schools: Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. Applying to these schools early does not give you an advantage in any way, shape or form. You’re probably scratching your head or about to close this blog over how ridiculous this sounds, but here’s why: Yes, the rate of acceptance at these schools is significantly higher early (roughly 22% at Princeton) than regular (about 3% at Princeton). But there’s a lot of things that are not considered when looking at these numbers. Recruited athletes: Each of these schools can basically offer a guaranteed (or likely, as they put it) spot to a certain number of athletes in each sport. Pretty much all of them will be applying early to take their recruited athlete spot. If each sport recruits 5 (conservative estimate) athletes a year and the school offers around 25 sports, then that’s 125 kids getting in every year. At Princeton, in a pool of 3,000 applicants and 600 accepted, that’s a significant portion of the applicants that are accepted, but not so much of the total pool. Thus the rate for non-athletes is closer to the actual rate. I’m not talking about the kids who only have one sibling or parent that went to the school. I’m talking about those incredibly powerful families that have ties with the school that date back to centuries ago and the filthy rich and powerful who have whole buildings named after them. These kids are usually smarter than your average student because their whole family was educated at these top schools, so they at least deserve a spot with the class. It’s the money and history that these schools value that place these applicants over the top. The people who apply to these schools early are generally stronger applicants than those who apply regular. Of course there are several exceptions, but those who apply early to a school often focus on that one application, whereas for regular they focus on anywhere from 5-15 other applications. This means that their early application may have a more thought-out and polished essay(s), or they know that they are best fit for that school and thus are more likely to be seen as a perfect match in the eyes of admissions officers. They may not necessarily be applying just because of the name, but because it’s the right school for them. How often have you heard someone say, “Just apply to Harvard! There’s a small chance you’ll get in.” While you certainly do have a greater chance of getting in if you apply vs. not applying, a student with less-than-adequate grades, extracurricular activates, and such is almost never going to get in over a kid who does have all the key components. The regular applicant pool at all these schools (Harvard especially) is inflated with the kids who say “LOL YOLO I’ll submit a Harvard app and see what happens.” These kids almost never apply early because with that mindset they are unlikely going to put in the extra work to get their app in early. If you ask an admissions officer at basically any one of these universities (HYPS) about the advantages of applying early, they’ll tell you that there isn’t any. If you don’t trust them here, how are you going to trust them with deciding whether you will attend their school for the next four years? Early Action (EA) Unlike REA, schools that allow you to apply early action will also allow to apply to as many other schools early as you wish. Just be careful to not spread your workload out too thin. Some schools that fall under this category include The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, and University of Chicago. If you look at the numbers, there is really no huge advantage for applying to these schools early, other than of course, if it’s your first choice and you get in, you don’t have to worry about applying anywhere else. This is due to the fact that these schools don’t have as much of a guaranteed spot for recruited athletes (or at least many of them), and they aren’t as well known for the insane legacy and rich donor ties. Early Decision (ED) The majority of schools that offer early submission fall under the ED category. If accepted to these schools, you commit to attending that school and will have to withdraw any apps you submitted elsewhere. Schools that offer ED include Columbia, Northwestern, Cornell, Dartmouth, Washington University in St. Louis, and University of Pennsylvania. Applying ED almost always entails an application advantage. This is because if you are a strong applicant, they will want you to attend their school not a “better” university. But, be sure that if you apply here, it is your first choice: if you change your mind and then get accepted, you’re stuck with that school. Also, having you commit to their school improves their yield rate, and thus their rank on USNWR for National Universities. The reason HYPS don’t offer ED is because they are pretty much everyone’s first choice, their yield rate is so high, and they know that if you get in, you’re more than likely to attend. This is not so much the case at many ED schools. Conclusion Apply to a school because it is a good fit for you, not because it’s called Harvard, but because they offer everything you could want in a college. If you need help finding the right fit or have questions about this process, feel free to contact me or any one of the ADME team, and we will be more than happy to help you out. After all, we have recently finished the process ourselves and are eager to pass down our experience.
So now that you’ve got your essay written down, the biggest question floating through your mind is probably, “Is it good?” The answer is probably a big, fat no. Before you do ANY editing, you have to make sure that your topic / general idea is something that’s fit to submit. Then your essay will probably have to go through a hefty amount of editing. “Well, what do I have to do to make it better?” The first thing you probably want to do is try to characterize the theme your essay, in a few words, of what you want the admissions officers to see. This could be a belief that you stand by, an important aspect of your personality, or an idea central to your identity. Remember that you are writing an essay, and the theme of your essay should basically be like your thesis, except never explicitly stated. Some of mine include “small changes and fixes can lead to big improvements” and “openness to explore new ideas.” While the theme itself may not be much different from the other applicants, the story that you use to describe it will be. It is very similar to how several novels can share the same theme, but the way they develop it differs immensely. If you have trouble with thinking of the theme, you’ll likely need to write a new essay. While the essay may actually tell a good story, it will, more often than not, lack the “character development” aspect of your essay. Don’t worry, this was me for a lot of the first essays I wrote. Often times, when I asked myself what I was trying to get at, I chuckled a little and slowly dragged my essay over into my computer’s trash folder. Now if the answer is yes, ask yourself if this theme is central to who you are as a person. Get ready, you’re going to have to do a TON of soul searching. The theme should be something that you live and breathe by, and your day-to-day actions somewhat reflect that idea. For me, I didn’t realize it until after I wrote down my essay, but focusing on small changes plays a huge role in how I approach pretty much all my extracurriculars. If it doesn’t pass this test, then you should strongly consider writing a new essay on something else. OK I get it, you spent all this time on an essay and now you’re thinking about rewriting it? Just keep in mind that each essay plays a huge role in admissions and you want it to be pretty much as good as possible. The last thing you want is to submit an essay that does not successfully show off your personality because you were simply too lazy to write one more draft. Second, have you revealed other aspects of your personality? Good news is, if you have reached this part, then you probably won’t have to rewrite your entire essay, just modifying parts here and there. The essay should be more than just a theme and an entertaining story. Each sentence should reveal little bits about what kind of person you are or play an essential part in developing your story (but the focus should be on you). Remember the tip in part 1 of the blog about show, don’t tell. The goal is so that any random stranger who comes across your essay would be able to feel like he (or she!) has known you well for a long time. This is ultimately what you want the admissions officer to do so that they can decide whether or not you are truly a good fit for their school. If your essay is really well written, you might be able to pick apart your sentences and analyze how your descriptions reveal your character (sort of like analyzing a passage or novel when writing a timed or take home essay). If some of the sentences don’t really hold much meaning, then you may want to replace them with a description that reveals something about you or just cut it out altogether. I know; it hurts to cut out entire sentences of your essay, but it’s all for a greater cause, right? And finally, is your essay going to make the admissions officer feel warm and fuzzy inside? I would really recommend finishing off your essay with a statement that shows that you’re optimistic and excited for the future. This way, no matter how sad or happy the essay topic, you’ll have the admissions officer remembering something positive about you. Now imagine you’re the admissions officer. It’s 1 A.M., you’re on your fifth cup of coffee, and you feel as if your eyes are going to fall out looking at the next college app. The last thing you want is to read an dramatic essay that will leave you feeling even worse. Don’t get me wrong. It’s perfectly OK to write about a sad topic, but the key is that you need to spend as much, if not more, time talking about positive experiences and lessons learned as you would with the sad story. If done correctly, you can leave an immensely positive and deep impression on anyone who reads your essay, but only if you spend enough time rebuilding up the mood of your story. OK, so I’ve done all this, and my essay topic seems to work out pretty well. Once you’ve got these parts down, you can NOW think about the easy stuff: the word limit/minimum (although if the essay is truly developed you wouldn’t have to worry about the minimum), grammar, more vivid descriptions, etc. Give your essay to your trusted friends, family, teachers, dog, cat, and even the local circus monkey. It is a good idea to have different opinions on your essay because in your eyes you would always have an amazing essay. I guarantee you almost everyone you know would be more than happy to proofread your essay. Ask them (or the ADME team!) whether the essay sounds like you, whether they are left with a better understanding of you, and how you can make your essay better. Just keep in mind that you do not have to accept all of the feedback you receive. This is your essay and it is up to you to decide what changes need to be made. While I did agree with many of my friends’ comments on my essays, there were several pieces that I felt did not help my essay. And that was totally fine because I knew the direction my essay needed to go in, and thus I could figure out the steps I needed to take to get there. Remember don’t be afraid to write a bad essay or rewrite a bad essay. Every step you take now is a step forward, and one that will help you through your college apps. Spend the time now doing all that you can to help with your essay, and you won’t regret it come March. Hope you enjoyed reading this, and contact us if you have any questions or need an extra set of eyes reading your essay!
If you’re reading this post right now, I’m willing to bet you’re thinking about the college admissions process. If so, you may fall into one of these categories: A rising senior or current senior applying to college and somewhat / completely lost on writing your college essay, in which case continue on reading. A high-schooler who does not fit into the category of number 1. Right now there’s better things for you to worry about, like your grades, SAT/ACT, extracurricular activities. So I highly recommend that you bookmark this page and don’t read this blog post until you fit into the category of 1. I know the essay is important, but why? The college essay is a way for the admissions officer to step into your shoes and see what kind of person you are from yet another perspective. The other perspectives, of course, include your grades, test scores, extracurricular activity involvement, etc. Often, when we (or at least me a few years ago) picture THAT kid who got into all the dream schools, we think about someone who has high test scores, high GPA, a wealth of extracurricular activities and leadership, some awards under their belt, and possibly more. Many applicants to these dream schools embody several of these characteristics, and there are way more students applying to these schools who have these “standout” qualities than the schools have room to accept. What separates you from the thousands of other kids applying to your dream school is your personality, and the best way to convey that is through your essay. A good essay will be able to convey various aspects of the student’s personality such that the admissions officer(s) will be able to connect and/or relate with you after reading your essay. These admissions officers are looking for people who can contribute to the school both academically and socially (as in campus life and activities, NOT partying). The numbers part of the college app, and sometimes extracurriculars, speak about the academic side of a student, but it is in the essay and teacher recs where the student can really show whether or not they belong at the school, and it has the potential to set you apart from the rest of the crowd. OK, but I have no idea where to start with my essay. The only way you can get good at writing college essays is to write college essays. Do not be afraid of writing a bad essay; I probably wrote AT LEAST 10 different essays before writing the three that I sent with my Princeton application (and I am not the world’s greatest writer). Depending on your writing ability, you may have to put more or less effort into your first few drafts. That said, you below are a few guidelines and tips you should constantly have in mind as you’re writing your college essay. When you write your essay, you should try to imagine that you’re telling a short story about an aspect of your life. This makes it entertaining for the admissions officer to read. But, keep in mind that this is still an essay. You will need to keep it unified under one idea, kind of like a thesis that is never explicitly stated, along with an introduction, to introduce your topic; body, to tell the meat of the story and more importantly, subtly reveal aspects of your personality to the admissions officer; and finally a conclusion to tie your essay together. As long as your essay is interesting to read and shows lots of bits about your personality, you’ll end up with a very solid essay. But doing it is very hard to do, so below are some tips to achieve your goal. If this is your first exposure to a college essay, I suggest trying to incorporate as many of these elements as possible, but I think it is more important to get SOMETHING down on paper, and then looking back here and on my next blog post about how to improve your essay or your next one. When thinking of a topic, it may be better to think small. One of my essays was about swimming laps during one of my normal swim practices, and another was about driving home from practices. The process that you use to find success, like laps everyday in a pool, may reveal a lot more about your personality than the success story itself. I think it is also a lot easier to maintain focus in your essay and keep it interesting if the scope of your topic is small. Write about something you love and can talk on and on about. I hesitate to use “passion” because it is thrown around so much when it comes to college apps. Writing a story about it becomes so much easier, and the essay flows much better because they’re things you love. Don’t be afraid if this is something “silly.” A heart-felt essay about Rubik’s Cubes or LEGOs or an embarrassing childhood memory may have the potential to turn into a very powerful essay. On the same note of choosing a topic, focus less about what you think the college wants to hear, and more about what makes you, well, you! Don’t worry about what anyone else is writing. Just focus on what kinds of qualities define your everyday life, and that itself, will be able to set you apart from the crowd because everyone has a unique personality (cheesy but true). Avoid clichés. If you think that writing an essay about the hard work you and your team put in that eventually led to winning a championship will be an “impressive” essay, then you’re likely going to be sharing that same idea with thousands of other kids applying to that exact school. These essays are often quite boring and do not really offer a lot of unique information about you because so many of these essays have similar structure, story, and lessons learned. Whatever you write about, include information on how it affects your life today. Ultimately, no matter how funny or cool your childhood story is, the admissions officer still needs to know about what kind of person you are right now. Figure out how to make the connection between your topic and your traits, aspirations, etc. Some examples I have seen include using the funny story as an anecdote to lead into current life or using the story to draw parallels with their current life. Show, don’t tell. I think this is THE biggest thing to remember. Basically, instead of stating what kind of traits you possess and why, you would mix in some sort of description that reveals a trait you want to convey. It would then be up to the admissions officer to put together a picture of you based on those descriptions. For example, let’s say you open up your essay with something like, “I waited, with my heart racing at 180 beats per minute and sweat soaking my clothes, for my coach’s whistle to start my next 100 meter repeat.” Now, you have communicated that you’re very disciplined, hard-working, and motivated to do well, and you have a ton of room to open up into a deep story and, more importantly, a central theme to your essay that shows more about who you are. For example, that same anecdote could be used to lead into an essay about a love for working under pressure. Don’t try to be cute and don’t try to be fancy. If you’re like me and you’re not all that creative when it comes to assignments and essays, it’s in your best interest to not all of a sudden become one that does. When you search online, you’re going to see crazy good essays of people writing love songs and creating amazing drawings to supplement their essay. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS. If you’ve always succeeded at being good and simple, keep doing that. Why change who you are to make yourself “look better” on your college app? Finally, keep it simple and true to you. Your essay does not have to reach the 650-word maximum in order to be great, and a shorter essay less than 500 words is not necessarily bad. It is far more important to keep your essay unified under a central theme (to prevent rambling or going off-topic). It is also super important that your essay sounds like you. Put the thesaurus away, don’t worry about making it sound more intelligent, and keep it somewhat colloquial: you want to show what kind of person you are, but you’re still writing to someone who is older and more powerful than you. There is a book you should look at called “50 Successful Harvard Admissions Essays.” It offers many different types of well-written essays, along with analysis on why the essay was good, and what the writer could have done to improve. You will get some sort of idea on how to structure your essay and additional tips for writing it. But, keep in mind that these essays are personal, and they really only work for the people who wrote them. For a long time, I tried to mimic the style of these essays, and these essays all felt very forced and did not really fit into my personality. It was only when I stopped thinking about those essays when I began to write my best essays. Also, none of these guidelines are not necessarily rules, and this post is not your bible. You should take this with a grain of salt, as you would other college advice. There will be a few examples that basically contradict everything that I say, but make a ridiculously good essay. Coming up: So you’ve drawn up a draft of your college essay. So what now?