Seven Tips for Writing College Admissions Essays

by Stuart Nachbar, Daytripper University Contributor *

writing-a-college-essay.jpg

College admissions essays are nothing like the usual writing assignments that a high school senior has been asked to do for teachers to earn grades. For those who do not like to write, they’re something to be feared. However, when a student has a combination of suspect grades and/or test scores with a dislike for classroom education, a half-hearted effort also means a missed opportunity.

College admissions offices require essays for good reasons. They help them to know more about their prospective students as well as assess their writing ability.  And the essays are also a way for prospective students to thoroughly and thoughtfully consider their interests in a school, and sometimes to demonstrate their creativity. 


Prospective college students are advised to follow these seven tips as they work on their essays. 

  1. Answer the question. College admissions officers consider an applicant’s ability to read as seriously they consider their ability to write. Also consider: if you were asked this question in a face-to-face meeting, how would the person seated across from you feel if you ignored the question, and talked about something else? 

  2. Never, ever, lie on an essay, and better yet, don’t even think about it. This does everyone—the prospective student, their parents, the admissions office, and the college itself—a huge disservice. The people on the college side may recover from the embarrassment, but the student and parents may not. 

  3. Write each essay in your voice. Never, ever have someone other than the student write the essay, and have the student write in a way that they “sound” as if they were to speak to an admissions officer in person. Experienced admissions officers know when an applicant has not written their essay, and they teach the less experienced ones to know the telltale signs of an “unrepresentative” submission. Not to mention that you might be invited to meet that admissions officer on campus, possibly for an interview. You want to make the admissions officer feel comfortable knowing that they met a person who wrote a strong essay.

  4. When essays ask you to elaborate on something that you might have covered briefly in another essay, be consistent. Sometimes college essays will build upon each other. For instance, if you briefly mention a possible major when you write about your interests in a school, then prepare to elaborate in the same voice for an essay that asks you to explain about your interests in a major. If you talk about another major, your application is more likely to be denied at a school that has selective admissions. 

  5. Check grammar, punctuation and spelling before pressing ‘Submit’. Do the essay in Word or Pages first, then run it through the spelling and grammar check before it is uploaded online. Not all admissions officers were English majors, and most are not expert writers. But most can catch the more obvious grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes, especially if they read your essay on a computer screen.

  6. Do not use the essay to show how smart you are. These essays are not a space to demonstrate mastery of complex academic material that admissions officers may not understand. But they are a great space to share enthusiasm for the material, even “teach” it in a way that will leave them more curious about you as a prospective student, and where you might fit in, or help to diversify, the incoming class.  No college wants to have a class where so many students have so few academic or pre-professional interests. 

  7. Happiness is always better than sadness. Leave admissions officers smiling after they read your essays. They have many to read, and they are human, just like you. They would prefer to read something that stands out, and leaves them smiling, than something negative that leaves them concerned that their school might not be right for you. This is especially true for colleges that are “need aware” and selective at the same time you need scholarship aid. In those situations admissions officers consider your standing in the applicant pool against your needs, and the college’s costs to provide them for you. 


College admissions essays may be a bane or pain to many students, but concise, thoughtful and well written ones can help get into colleges that might otherwise say no. They are your main space to make a strong impression on those who have the say to get you to yes.  


For assistance in college admissions essays and other steps in the college admissions process, contact Stuart at stuart@educatedquest.com or call 609-406-0062.

* As founder of Educated Quest, Stuart Nachbar provides personalized college, transfer and graduate/professional school admissions advisory services to help students and parents make the best-informed decisions their future education. Having worked around higher education for over three decades as an admissions advisor, author, urban economic development professional and senior-level software marketing executive, he knows the “inside baseball” about how colleges do business. Stuart holds a BA and MBA from Rutgers University, a Master of Urban Planning for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Certificate in College Admissions Counseling (with Distinction) from UCLA. He and his wife, Carol, live in Central New Jersey.

If You Like College Towns, But Don’t Like Large Colleges: Part 1

by Stuart Nachbar, Daytripper University Contributor *

Map

Whenever you hear the words “college town,” what comes to mind? Fun and interesting stores and restaurants, some that are household names? Sports bars and bookstores? Clothing stores that sell new and vintage fashions? Music stores and dance clubs? College towns are vibrant because they offer so many things for students, and parents, to do.

The idea of a college town is often associated with a large university. It might even be the flagship state school. Or it might be an institution in a larger city with many colleges. But while college-bound high school seniors and their families may like the idea of going to school in a college town, not everybody wants to enroll at a large school. In that case, there are two possible options: choose a smaller school that shares a college town with a larger one, or go to a smaller school that has a college town all to itself.

In this first of two posts, I’ll cover college towns where a small college with relatively achievable admissions, where more than half of the students who apply are accepted, shares the town with another, often larger institution. Daytripper University has already covered multiple schools in two such towns: Amherst, Massachusetts (home to Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and U-Mass-Amherst) and Ithaca, New York (home to Cornell University and Ithaca College). This post will introduce you to six more small schools, located in four other college towns.


Burlington1.png

BURLINGTON, VT

Burlington is not only home to the University of Vermont, but also to Champlain College. This 2,200 student school offers an “upside down” academic program that lets freshmen take as many as six courses in their major, and pursue internships as early as the summer after their first year. St. Michael’s College, a 2,000-student school in nearby Colchester, places more emphasis on the liberal arts. It is one of the only three Catholic colleges in New England—Boston College and Holy Cross are the other two—that has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the most prestigious academic honor society in the United States. Affectionately called ‘St. Mike’s’ this school is a great bet for bright students who adore everything outdoors including hiking, sailing, skiing, snowboarding, as well as access to Burlington, one of the most popular college towns, as Daytripper’s correspondents' report.

madison.JPG

MADISON, NJ

 

Home to Drew University, a 1,600-student liberal arts college, within walking distance of downtown, and Fairleigh Dickinson University, a 3,400-student school built on the grounds of a former estate, only a free shuttle ride away, Madison, New Jersey has a smaller, and more family oriented downtown than Burlington, but also something extra: easy access into New York City via New Jersey Transit trains. Drew takes advantage of its location to offer six New York Semester programs, exclusively for undergraduates. Fairleigh Dickinson’s campus is home to the International School of Hospitality and Tourism, one of the leading hospitality management schools in the country, and a partner with global hotel chain Wyndham Worldwide to offer classroom-based projects and internship opportunities.  

towson.jpg

TOWSON, MD

Located less than 20 miles from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Towson, Maryland, is home not only to Towson University, one of the state’s “growth institutions,” with more than 23,000 students, but also Goucher College, a 1,600 student liberal arts school, and one of The Colleges That Change Lives. The first college to require all students to have an educational experience abroad, Goucher’s bucolic campus is across from Towson Town Center, a luxury shopping mall with over 180 stores and many dining options, anchored by a four-story Nordstrom department store. Goucher is also a stop on the Baltimore Collegetown Network, a free bus service that connects the college to other area schools as well as the Inner Harbor.

E72GJY

KALAMAZOO, MI

Kalamazoo, Michigan is host not only to Western Michigan University, a state school with 23,000 students, and four campuses in town, but it has also been home to Kalamazoo College, aka ‘K. College,’ another one of The Colleges That Change Lives, since 1833. This 1,500-student liberal arts college is noted for the ‘K. Plan’, that combines a liberal arts education, with a real-world learning experience, study aboard and a Senior Individualized Project, a graduate-level thesis, performance or creative work. While Kalamazoo, aka “K-town,” is over two hours from Chicago or Detroit, its downtown offers many of the same amenities students will find in a college town such as Bloomington, home to Indiana University or West Lafayette, home to Purdue, although the sports programs will be lower profile than they are in these Big Ten communities.

If you are looking for a college town, but don’t like large universities, these towns and schools have much to offer students: a great place to live, signature academic programs,  as well as real-world learning opportunities. Even when students ultimately may travel away from campus for an internship or study abroad, they will still consider their college town their true educational home.

 

* As founder of Educated Quest, Stuart Nachbar provides personalized college, transfer and graduate/professional school admissions advisory services to help students and parents make the best-informed decisions their future education. Having worked around higher education for over three decades as an admissions advisor, author, urban economic development professional and senior-level software marketing executive, he knows the “inside baseball” about how colleges do business. Stuart holds a BA and MBA from Rutgers University, a Master of Urban Planning for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Certificate in College Admissions Counseling (with Distinction) from UCLA. He and his wife, Carol, live in Central New Jersey.

 

Gap Year

Members of the class of 2022 are coming back from gap years studying cuisine in Paris, learning Spanish in Honduras while researching in the Mayan Highlands, while some will have spent time interning to save money for college or participating in public service projects. Read about their experiences and how a gap year made perfect sense for them.

Read More

Juniors Start Here

For most high school juniors across the country and around the world, January signifies two things: the beginning of the second semester and the unofficial start of "The Process."

Read More

Could Early Decision Ever Go Away?

by Stuart Nachbar *

IMG_0921.jpg

Early Decision is one of the more popular, and most loathed, practices in college admissions. The concept is simple: if you have a first-choice school, apply early. If you get accepted you must deposit, then withdraw all of your other college applications.

Interestingly, few state schools offer the opportunity to apply Early Decision. Most prefer to use Early Action, Rolling Admissions or Regular Decision practices instead. Six campuses of the State University of New York, including SUNY-Geneseo, profiled here, Salisbury University (MD), Governors State University (IL) The College of New Jersey (also profiled here), Ramapo College of New Jersey, Miami University (OH), the College of William and Mary (VA), Christopher Newport University (VA) and Virginia Tech all offer Early Decision.

I recommend Early Decision to parents and students when:

They know that it is the “dream school,” that the student is absolutely sure that s/he will enroll, if accepted.

They are sure that they can afford the school, or have information, expressed in writing to all prospective students, usually on their Web site, that the student has the specific qualifications for a scholarship.

They are being highly recruited for sports or special talents that are likely to lead to scholarships that help to make the school affordable.

The big plus for students and families is that their college search ends early if the Early Decision school says yes. They also have time to apply to other schools if that school defers or says no.

There are good reasons why colleges offer admissions through Early Decision, and even opt to run two Early Decision cycles, one that usually requires applications to be submitted in November, the other that reviews them starting in January.

* Students who apply Early Decision are more likely to have done their homework to learn if their school is their “best fit.” They do not need further persuasion to deposit.

* The admissions office can fill their freshman class faster when they are confident that they can attract a large volume of applications. Gettysburg College,  a school that I recently visited, can attract between 40 and 45 percent of their next freshman class through Early Decision—and that school is neither ultra-selective, nor does it award athletic scholarships.

* The earlier the admissions office receives deposits, the faster they can fill and begin plans to welcome the incoming freshman class. It’s more fun to work in an admissions office that can fill the class by the May 1st deposit date than to work for one that has to attract deposits after that date.

* The larger the share of the class that enters through Early Decision, the smaller the share that are likely to need financial aid. While admissions professionals will encourage families to use the New Price Calculator on the Financial Aid Web pages, they also caution them to examine family budgets and resources. Unless the college has specified information on GPAs or test scores for scholarships in print or online to all prospective students, it is not obligated to make such awards to students who are accepted through Early Decision. In fact, it is not obligated to meet a family’s full financial need as determined through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The school may use the College Board’s CSS-Profile to collect more information, ask for tax returns, and make their own calculations of need. A college may report that they meet 100 percent of demonstrated need—but it is likely to be based on their own estimates, not the Expected Family Contribution that appears on the FAFSA.

But now the US Department of Justice is investigating the Statement of Good Principles and Practices adopted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), a membership organization that includes college admissions counselors, school counselor and independent advisors, like myself. No one knows how the investigation could turn up or how it could turn out to change admissions practices. However, as college bound juniors begin to make their college lists, it is possible that it could change the admissions processes at many schools.

Could it impact Early Decision?

It’s very tough to say. Early Decision favors those who can afford the school as well as those who are assured, like full-scholarship athletes. It works against those who do not understand financial aid as well as those families who know that they will struggle to cover college costs. Early Decision has made the college admissions process less “democratic” at many schools, including some of the most selective colleges in the United States.

I am not sure how the current leadership in the White House or Congress would weigh in on Early Decision. There does not appear to be support for increased Federal financial aid. Most colleges, even the more selective schools, will try to use Federal or State grants to help reduce costs for their students before they go to their own endowments to offer need-based aid. They would likely become more selective if they had to rely more heavily on their own funds to help new students.

According to their proposed education budget for 2018, the Trump Administration proposed that:

* Pell Grants become year-round, while they also proposed that total funding be reduced by $500 million.

* Supplemental grants be zeroed out (from over $700 million)

* That the Federal Work Study program, which provides funding for campus jobs, be cut by nearly 50 percent from just under $1 billion to $500 million.

These are hardly the ideas for making college more affordable and accessible to students who want to attend private colleges that offer Early Decision, but also need significant financial aid. Making matters worse, the most recent tax bill passed by Congress and signed by the president taxes endowments of 61 colleges, including some of the most selective.

The private schools (Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale) that prefer to use an alternative, Restricted Early Action, that limits applicants to only one Early Action school, might even shift to Early Decision. It makes it more likely that the students they admit early will have the resources to come. They have to make up for the tax, and possibly a downward path in the market value of their endowment.

State schools that offer Early Decision could face a different story, if governors face pressure to make admissions and enrollment at those schools more accessible to resident students. The response to such pressure might include lower tuition and fee increases or more state funds for financial aid.  Another option, currently practiced in California, North Carolina and Virginia, is to have more “honors” or articulation agreements with community colleges.

But most other colleges that offer Early Decision admissions would likely want to see them continue in this climate. They would want more assurances of enrollment as well as more students who have the resources to enroll. Early Decision is less democratic. But it is also a financial lifeline for many schools.

Need help in understanding college admissions practices? Contact Stuart at stuart@educatedquest.com or call him at 609-406-0062.

* As founder of Educated Quest, Stuart Nachbar provides personalized college, transfer and graduate/professional school admissions advisory services to help students and parents make the best-informed decisions their future education. Having worked around higher education for over three decades as an admissions advisor, author, urban economic development professional and senior-level software marketing executive, he knows the “inside baseball” about how colleges do business. Stuart holds a BA and MBA from Rutgers University, a Master of Urban Planning for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Certificate in College Admissions Counseling (with Distinction) from UCLA. He and his wife, Carol, live in Central New Jersey.