Why You Want To Avoid This Essay Trap At All Costs

You have good grades. You have good activities, recommendations, and test scores.

You have all the right credentials to get into your dream college.

But guess what?

Thousands of other students have the same GPAs, SAT scores, and teachers fawning over how smart they are.

I’m not telling you this so you don’t feel special.

I’m telling you this to make sure your essays are as special as possible.

With your Common Application essay and your supplements, you have the chance to show admissions officers the value that only you can bring to their school.

Cliché essay topics and phrases must be avoided because you risk sounding like every other student.

Do not write about the time you got cut from soccer tryouts and worked hard to make the team the next year. Thousands of other students have the exact same story.  Do not write that you are a “hard-working person”—that will be clear from your transcript and your recommendations.

Admissions officers want you to show them, in detail, your drive, curiosity, and passion without using any of those words.

They want you to paint a picture of something that is important to you. Tell them something that they could not deduce from anything in your transcript, activities resume, or recommendations. This element of surprise will bring the best writing out of you and will be just as enjoyable to read.

The Best Essay I’ve Read

One of the best college essays I’ve helped edit was about singing in the shower. Why was it so compelling? They were able to describe singing in the shower with the same detail and emotion as someone would describe singing on stage at the Lincoln Center. It showed that they could bring their intellectual vibrancy to even the simplest activity.

Cliché topics are not limited to “hard work pays off” stories. For this year, I can guarantee that thousands of students will write about being isolated during the quarantine. They will talk about the quietness of their life, what it was like to be away from friends, and how they began a new bread-making hobby. Unless you truly have a unique, vulnerable, or creative moment to share about your experience with coronavirus, I suggest avoiding using the words “quarantine” and “coronavirus” because they will be so widely used this application season.

To ensure your essays are cliché free, I have a quick two-step process.

1.) Ask yourself—Is this a story only I can tell?

If you are writing about an experience that you know several friends could also write about, you have not thought of a story or topic personal enough to you.

2.) Show, Don’t Tell

This phrase should be written on a post-it note and stuck right above the computer you write your essays on. This is the number one rule that will make sure you are not using any clichés. That’s because when you go into detail and describe settings, emotions, and observations, you enter a world that is entirely your own. No one has your unique perspective and that is why all the best essays are written with this phrase in mind. 

How The Different College Application Deadlines Can Impact Your Student and Financial Aid

College application deadlines are not the most exciting topic to consider as your teen prepares for college during high school, but it’s a very important topic one. It’s important because it can make a big difference in terms of what you pay for college as well as impact your student’s chances on getting admitted.

Each year there are different application deadlines that your teen can use for their applications for college. They sound similar, so it can be confusing to understand how they are different. I’ll explain how they can impact your teen and their college future.

One of the deadlines is simply the regular decision deadline that happens every year,  usually around January. The thing to remember is that application deadlines are very unforgiving, so your teen needs to make sure that they meet that deadline.

Regular decision is a standard deadline, and another deadline you may hear about is the “rolling deadline”. The rolling deadline means that your teen can submit their application at any time. Usually they’ll get a notice back of a decision about three or four weeks later (but sometimes it could be sooner, depending on the time of year).

The rolling deadline is one that doesn’t have a specific date. So, it could start perhaps as soon as October and keep going until the final deadline, which means that all the applications have to be in by that time. Or it can be set to go as late as the spring of senior year.

Now that we’ve covered standard and rolling deadlines, I want to review two other deadlines that can be a bit confusing because they start with the same word. One of these deadlines is the “early action deadline”. Early action is non-binding, which means that your teen can apply to an early action deadline and usually they’ll find out the decision perhaps around December. It gives them a little bit of ease, especially if they do get admitted, because they’ll know pretty much where their application stands. Then, if they want to apply to some additional colleges, they still have time to do that under the regular deadline.

The fourth deadline I want to talk about also starts with early, and it’s called “early decision deadline”. Early decision is more strict because this deadline is binding. Every year, there are a lot of families that will apply under the early decision deadline. With the early decision deadline, because it’s binding, you cannot apply to any other colleges that have any type of restrictive deadlines. You want to make sure that you read the fine print on that.

The early decision deadline is one that the parents have to sign off on. Also, the school counselor will be notified as well. The key thing with the early decision deadline is that it means that if your teen is admitted, they must go to that college, regardless of financial aid. This is where sometimes I will see families who decide to do the early decision deadline, because that’s the only one that a particular college offers for them (either early decision or regular).

Generally with the earlier application rounds, the admissions rate is a bit more favorable. Families that want to make sure that their teen has the best shot in terms of admissions will often go ahead and exercise that option to use the early decision deadline. But soon after, if the decision comes back positive in December, you have a short window of time to withdraw all of your other applications and to submit your deposit to hold your space.

That’s a really serious deadline. Sometimes families will say, “Oh, I didn’t know. I thought we would be eligible for financial aid.” They get a surprise that they don’t get any additional aid and then it’s trying to figure out, “Okay, how do we pay for it?”

It’s a deadline that I wouldn’t take lightly. It’s certainly your family’s choice if you decide to do the early decision round, but know that it means that your teen will be going if they get admitted, regardless of what the financial aid is.

At least with the early action option, you have a chance to look through the financial aid offers from other colleges as well. On the flipside, some colleges will offer only the early decision deadline, and then others may have an early action, or they can also have an early decision as well. So you want to be sure you know the deadlines for your student’s college of choice when they begin applying!

One thing I will add about the very late regular decision deadlines is that sometimes colleges will say the deadline is June 1st. They will be filling those seats before then,  so for colleges that may have a very late regular decision deadline doesn’t mean that you can apply on May 31st still find seats available. It’s a point to keep that in mind when your student is scheduling when to submit applications.

Do you have questions about application deadlines and helping your student get into their dream school? Application deadlines can make a big difference in terms of what you could end up paying. In some cases, it can also make a difference as to where your teen gets admitted. I look forward to hearing from you if you have any questions or thought about the process!

If you’re a parent of a high school student preparing for college, I have created a free online training class that answers the most common questions I get from parents: “How to Find The Right College.” It offers insight into the college application process as well as how to get money for college. You can check it out and register for it HERE.

Last-minute Campus Visit Tips for College-bound Seniors

campus visits in senior year

Every fall, there are are college-bound seniors who decide to add a college (or 2!) to their list that they haven’t visited. In some cases, maybe a senior hasn’t been able to visit any colleges at all. There are still last-minute opportunities to visit a campus prior to the early November deadlines.

I urge seniors to visit those campuses where they have a strong interest. The campus visit can help with determining whether to keep that college on the list and writing the “Why this college?” essay. Also, many high schools encourage campus visits by permitting seniors to visit colleges without an absence penalty.

3 top tips for Senior campus visits

For those college-bound seniors who are visiting in the fall, here are 3 tips to get the most from a last-minute visit:

Blue lights are everywhere!
Blue lights are everywhere!
  • Sleep overnight –This is a great way to experience dorm life, meet students, and getting sense for the campus vibe. You’ll know right away if you “fit in” or not.
  • Interview – The admissions office may offer interviews. This will be a time that you can shine beyond your application. Be careful though . . . if you think that the interview with hurt your application, rather than help, then don’t interview.
  • Visit the campus at night – Almost every campus has a blue-light system. However, walking around the campus at night or the surrounding neighborhood will help you determine if you still feel safe in that environment. This is especially important if you’re concerned about safety and the college doesn’t offer an overnight opportunity.

Special visit programs for College-bound Seniors

So as stressful as the application season may be, the campus visit is still an important component to include on your schedule. Some of the campuses that offer overnight programs or special senior weekends are

This is a short list of colleges but there many others. Check out the admissions page of the college that interests you to learn about their special programs for high school seniors.

Where are you visiting?

3 Ways Parents Hurt College Changes Without Knowing It

Do you have a high school senior who is now applying to colleges? If so, I have exciting news to share with you so that you do not make the mistake of jeopardizing your teen’s college chances. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this behavior exhibited year after year with parents of seniors. I want to share it with you so that you are both informed and empowered in terms of how you support your teen through the college application process.

August is the time that seniors will be usually setting up their Common Application account. That’s the main portal or tool that they’ll use to have the ability to apply to hundreds of colleges. Ideally seniors will choose eight to ten colleges to apply to using the Common Application website.

One of the things I see is parents working with their first child to go through the college application process and they get a little bit overzealous in terms of helping. When this happens, I warn parents that it’s okay to help, but not do. There are generally three key mistakes I see parents making that jeopardizes their teen’s chances of admissions.

The first mistake parents make is using their teen’s Common Application password to log into their account. A few years ago, the mother of a client of mine was logging in to her son’s account and inadvertently submitted an application with her name on it. That’s embarrassing–and it’s difficult to undo! The Common Application now has accounts created for parents, so you can set up your own account. That way, you can see what the application questions are, how to fill out an application and get some insight without actually logging into your teen’s account.

The second mistake that I see is from parents that will write the application essays for their teens. I know some of you might be horrified by this thought, but it’s true. It happens every year. Unfortunately, that’s a critical way to hurt your teen’s college admissions chances. It’s highly likely that a college admissions officer will recognize the difference between the words a parent would use versus a teenager. An essay written by a parent won’t have the same authenticity that’s needed to be really compelling and stand out. Sometimes, even if you’re not fully writing it but instead trying to write about an experience or offering certain words to use, it will still be obvious. What I recommend is to let your teen invite you to read their application essay and just do that. As much as you can, restrain from commenting on it or suggesting changes. Read it, encourage them, and let them submit their best without you placing judgment on it.

The third and final mistake that I see parents making is having too many readers. I have seen some parents invite family members and other people that they know in the community to read their teens application essay. Just like too many cooks in the kitchen can be a disaster, having your teen respond to three or five different readers stresses them out more and makes the process that much more challenging for them.

To recap, the first key is to get your own Common Application account. The next is to not write your teen’s essays. Thirdly, limit the number of readers for your teen’s application essays. One or two, that should be enough so that it doesn’t confuse them, doesn’t undermine and discourage them in any way. The main thing that your teen needs through this process is confidence. They need assurance that it may be a tough season, but they will get through it and it will be a great experience for their future.