July 1, 2015

14 Questions to Help You Edit Your College Admission Essays

After you've written rough drafts of your college essays, use these questions to help you make some serious revisions. Writing is a process, and you should go through several drafts of your college essays in order to make them improve them as much as possible.

14 Questions to Help You Edit Your College Admission Essays:

Have you communicated your direction in life? 

Do you have a clear sense of direction?

Why do you want to obtain your college degree?

Have you thoroughly considered your career path?

What do you want to get out of a college education?

Have you been specific in stating your purpose?

Is your essay clear? 

Have you carefully articulated your story?

Have you avoided repeating info from other parts of the application?

Have you used colorful details and observations?

Have you stayed as concise as possible?

Have you shown that you're unique? 

Have you shown that you’re an interesting person?

Have you backed up your personality with examples?

Does your expressed uniqueness mesh with the rest of the application?

Have you honestly shown who you are? 

Have you been honest about your strengths and weaknesses?

Does the reader get a real sense of your view of the world and your personality?

June 15, 2015

College Admission Essay Advice

A journalist recently interviewed me about my advice on writing the college essay. I'm including an edited excerpt of the interview below.


1. What did you select as your admission essay topic and how did you choose it?

I wrote about my experience as a youth delegate to the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. My participation in this conference this was my most impressive achievement at the time, and the conference happened to fall immediately prior to the start of my senior year of high school. As such, making it my college admission essay topic was a no-brainer.

Background on how I came to attend the conference:

How to Choose Impressive Extracurriculars for College Admissions

The High School Superstar Effect in College Admissions

2. What's your best piece of advice for a high school senior who is writing an admission essay? 

Use plenty of anecdotes and be sure to start "in the moment" to keep readers engaged. Admissions officers are skimming hundreds of college essays each day, so you shouldn't be afraid to be unconventional (within reason) to grab their attention.

3. Did you learn anything about yourself from writing the essay?

Yes. Writing the college essay required me to analyze why I had become involved in the UN in the first place. It helped me to place my UN experiences within the broader context of my pre-college extracurriculars. It also helped me to determine my college major (Political Science).

May 31, 2015

How Many Extracurriculars for College Admissions?

It's all about quality, not quantity. Focus your time on a one thing (or a few) that you truly care about. Pick something you'd enjoy doing even if you knew that colleges wouldn't ever learn you'd done it.

Too many students join a million clubs simply to "build their resumes," do nothing significant in them, then list them on college applications. Those don't "count."

If you want an extracurricular to "count," you should do something that you enjoy. Otherwise, you won't have anything compelling about it to include on your application.

A single extracurricular could end up consuming all your free time (leading you to have only one). However, you'll be a much more compelling applicant than one who "did" several, but did nothing truly meaningful in any of them.

Suppose you're a student interested in marketing. Here's one step-by-step approach I might recommend to help you discover an extracurricular that will stand out and make for a compelling story:

  • Talk with lots of small entrepreneurs / nonprofits in industries that interest you.
  • Keep a list of the ones you like.
  • Propose an idea you think your favorite would like and offer to carry it out for them.
  • If they say no, see if you can figure out something else for them.
  • If not, move on to your next-favorite.
  • Repeat.
No one else can suggest a specific extracurricular for you. The ones you'll really excel in are the ones you're passionate about and discover for yourself - not ones someone else told you would look good.

If you truly care about an extracurricular and become involved in organically, that passion will come across in your application. You'll do a better job in it (and in the college admissions process) because your heart is truly in it.

May 15, 2015

How to Discover "Secret" Local College Scholarships

Towards the end of the school year, many high school seniors are featured in local newspapers. Articles about them typically mention which colleges they'll be attending in the fall.

Pay attention to these articles. They'll often mention local scholarships those students received.

Keep a list of these scholarships. The organizations that give them away will likely be running these scholarship competitions again in the fall. Apply for those scholarships.


The applicant pool for local scholarships is much smaller than the national scholarships that receive thousands of applications. Your high school's guidance office may also have information about local scholarships on file. Also, look into any niche scholarships you can find.

When it comes to applying national scholarships, it's most efficient to write a relatively smaller number of essays that you can re-use for multiple scholarships. In other words, focus on applying for scholarships that will allow you to use essays you've already written for others. You don't want to write essays that can only be used once!

However, local scholarships have such a small applicant pool that may be worth writing something customized for these. I've seen students win local scholarships simply because they were the only ones to apply for them!

May 12, 2015

College Application Checklist for High School Seniors

I've published a college application checklist and timeline to take you through the college admissions process from start to finish. This is the seventh and final article in the series. (Read the first article.)


2-3 months after submitting your college applications

You should have received some kind of notification from schools indicating that your application is complete. If you haven't received one from a school to which you've applied, check in to make sure that your file is, in fact, complete.  

3-6 months after submitting your college applications

You'll start hearing back from schools. The timing of the schools' decisions will depend, in part, upon when you submitted your application. (However, some schools may not even let you know of their decisions until the summer, for their own reasons - their need to fill their incoming class with the strongest applicants possible.)

Getting waitlisted has become more common in recent years. If you've been waitlisted from a school that you really want to attend, send a Letter of Continued Interest. Also be sure to provide them with any important updates to your application file. These may include grades you've recently received, awards, extracurriculars, employment changes, etc. You may also consider submitting an additional letter of recommendation. If possible, visit the schools if you haven't already, if for no reason other than to provide additional evidence of your interest.

If you accept an offer of admission from a school, be sure to withdraw your application from those to which you've applied but will not be attending. Aside from being proper etiquette, you're actually required to do this.

Evaluate acceptance offers as well as any accompanying offers of financial aid. Consider the school's U.S. News ranking, the cost of living in the area where the school is located, and whether the scholarship offered by the school is conditional or guaranteed. It's especially important to consider the school's employment statistics for recent graduates, including the percentage of graduates employed full-time in a job where a degree is required or preferred.

After deciding where to attend college 

Relax! You did it. Now all you have to do is make it through college. Enjoy.

May 11, 2015

College Planning Schedule - Senior Year

I've published a college admissions timeline to take you through the college admissions process from start to finish. This is the sixth article in the series. (Read the first article.)


1-2 months after submitting your college applications 

Submit any applications for financial aid, scholarships, private loans, etc.

In December, file your taxes (or have your parents file their taxes). You'll want to have the information in your tax returns in order to complete FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) in January (when that year's FAFSA form becomes available). If, for some reason, you're not able to complete your taxes in December, estimate the figures as best you can. You'll be able to update the form later after you've filed your tax returns. (You'll receive an email reminder to do so in April.) 

You may also have your college interview during this time. See these tips on how to prepare.

In early January, fill out FAFSA (available Jan 1). It's necessary in order to get government loans for tuition, and you might have to wait 6 weeks to receive a response to your FAFSA submission, so the earlier you submit it, the better. In a few months, you'll be in a better position to determine whether a school's financial aid offer is sufficient if you know the amount of money you're getting from other sources. (Schools won't always give you a lot of time to decide on their financial aid offers, so you want to have the relevant information as soon as possible.)

Also in early January, provide schools with updated transcripts reflecting your grades from the fall. (You'll need to request another transcript from your school’s guidance office.)

May 10, 2015

3 Differences between Universities in America and Europe

1. Liberal Arts Education

One of the major differences between American and European colleges/universities is the fact that American schools allow students to enjoy a liberal arts background. In the U.S., as you know, students do not immediately begin career-focused education (like law, medicine, business, etc.).

For example, some schools like Columbia University require students to take a "Core Curriculum" including courses such as Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization. Other universities (like the University of Chicago) have similar course requirements.

This is great for students who do not yet know what career path they would like to pursue.

2. American campus life

Most students live in dormitories in a community of peers. They live away from home and have more independence than students who continue to live at home (as is the norm in Europe). They also enjoy literally hundreds of extracurricular activities on campus and have university funding to explore their interests and passions.

3. Relationships with professors

Smaller class sizes are generally more available at American schools. Professors are required to hold office hours, and they encourage students to stop by to ask any question they like. Juniors and seniors are generally able to take seminars with fewer than ten students.