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Let’s start this post with a short pop quiz.
Which of the following options would have been most likely to appear on the vocabulary section of the old SAT?
If your only experience is with the new test, or if you’ve encountered articles discussing the SAT redesign, it’s probably safe to assume you’ve heard a thing or two about all those “obscure” words that were removed from the exam in order to make it more “relevant” and aligned with “what students are doing in school” (which is… what exactly?) (more…)
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Note, January 2022: This post was written in 2018, before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Obviously, many things have changed since then, not least the amount of psychological pressure that many high school students have experienced. Clearly, some of the boundaries and expectations surrounding acceptable/advisable topics for admissions essays have shifted, and applicants undoubtedly have more leeway in discussing mental-health issues than they did in the past. That said, I would still caution against making this subject the exclusive focus of your essay(s). If it happens to be relevant—and it very well might be, given the events of the last couple of years— then you should focus on discussing it in a mature way that conveys qualities such as empathy and resilience, and that demonstrates your ability to reflect insightfully on what may have been very difficult situations.
As regular readers of my blog may know, I periodically trawl the forums over at College Confidential to see what’s trending. Recently, I’ve noticed a concerning uptick in the number of students asking whether it’s appropriate for them to write about mental health issues, most frequently ADD and/or anxiety, in their college applications.
So the short answer: don’t do it.
The slightly longer version:
If you’re concerned about a drop in grades or an inconsistent transcript, talk to your guidance counselor. If these types of issues are addressed, the GC’s letter is the most appropriate place for them. If, for any reason, the GC is unable/unwilling to discuss them and the issues had a significant impact on your performance in school that unequivocally requires explanation, you can put a brief, matter of fact note in the “is there any additional information you’d like us to know?” section, but think very carefully about how you present it. Do not write your main essay about the issue. (more…)
It took a while to happen, but college essays have begun to be placed under the kind of scrutiny traditionally reserved for the SAT. In just the past couple of weeks, articles have appeared in both the Washington Post and Inside Higher Ed discussing the college essay industry and highlighting the vast sums of money some families spend on assistance with this aspect of the application.
These articles raise some very important questions: exactly how much help is too much? And how should colleges evaluate an assignment that some applicants have spent thousands of dollars to complete? (more…)
I don’t wade into the waters of college essays very often, but for those of you who are thinking about starting them or are already in the process of writing them, I’m going to offer some tips regarding things to avoid.
While the most effective college essays do tend to share some general features (specific, stylistically varied, have a clear story arc, are unique to the writer), they come in so many different varieties that there is no real formula to writing one. For that reason, I find it difficult to prescribe a particular set of “do’s.”
Ineffective essays, on the other hand, tend to exhibit a much clearer set of characteristics.
So having said that, I’m going start with one very big cliché to avoid: (more…)