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Welcome to the Jungle

In college admissions, college application, college essay, common application, personal statement, university application information on August 30, 2011 at 10:29 pm

College Advising and College Essay Coaching available in June, continuing into July and August.  Space is limited.  See below for details.

The College App Jungle is my blog devoted to the  world of college applications.  The pursuit of college admissions can seem increasingly Darwinian, but my hope is that this blog will provide you with the context and means to have a fulfilling and successful transition into college.  In that spirit, you can scroll through my archives to find over 100 posts covering all aspects of the college search–a clickable table of contents for a selection of popular topics can be found below.

This is an old-school informational service, short on gauzy pictures and long on detailed and dense analysis and information.  In addition to maintaining this blog as a public service, I offer a full slate of  college advising and application services, ranging from self-assessment and college selection to the best essay development and editing service in the field.

Upcoming Events and News

College Application Essay and College Advising

Contact me for personal essay coaching and college advising appointments in June and July.  I work one-one-one, in person and via Skype, to help you begin your college essays, and if you need college advising and target school help, the sooner you get started, the better.  The Common Application Prompts have already been released, and early applications are in full swing by early November.   You don’t want to be working out where to apply and what essays are required as you also juggle  new projects, classwork and school essays as the new school year begins.  Enjoy your senior year more by starting the application process early. To inquire about my college application and editing services,  you can reach me directly via e-mail here:  Contact Me.

(One Warning--while the 2017-2018 Common App prompts were released this spring, so that you can choose and write your single Common App essay as of now, please do not set up your Common App account yet–all existing accounts will be deleted in late July, 2017,  when the portal goes offline before reopening for the  2017-2018 application year.  This has happened in previous years in the last half of July, with the portal reopening  between July 31 and August 1st, as a rule.  In addition, individual colleges will be making any official changes to their essays and other requirements at that time, so check with me on this site and with university websites for additional changes for this year–and don’t be alarmed if your college of choice does not have its essay prompts ready when the Common App does go live.  Some of the most elite schools have been late to the game in recent years.  Harvard, for example, posted their essay prompts in mid-August last year.)

You can also visit my business portal at: UniversityGatesAdvising to quickly review some basic information on the college application scene (like the sometimes odd terminology used in admissions) and to see client testimonials.

College App Jungle Contents and Links

The Secret of College Admissions:  How College Applications Are Evaluated

Common Application and Common Application Essays

Common Application Update 

College Application Trends, Statistics and Advice

Ivy League Admissions Data for 2016-2017–See the most recent data available on admissions

Advice on the College Application Rat Race

Researching And Selecting Colleges:  Go West, Young Person–an old post, but still so true, for those looking to get great bang for their tuition buck.

College Application Success:  The Seven Rules–timeless advice on how the system works

The Stanford Supplemental Essay Prompts (These have  been unchanged since 2011)

More on the Stanford Supplement Prompts

University of Chicago

I have a soft spot for The University of Chicago Essay Prompts, because they are often so brazenly weird and even when they seem a little too-cute pretentious, they are interesting.  Because  U Chi allows applicants to choose and write an essay addressing any of their old prompts, I keep all of my old posts on them up–for example, have a look at:   Prompts for 2015-2016. Or just click below for old prompts that you may still write about.

The Mantis Shrimp Prompt:  How to Write About It

The Chicago History Prompt:  There’s More To It Than Meets The Eye

Those Chuckleheads:  The Chicago Joke Prompt–How to Write About It

Writing About Books- Part 2 (2011)

How to Persuade: The Rhetorical Situation

The above is not a comprehensive list of posts but gives you a representative sample.  You may browse further using the Archive link.  

In the twenty years that I have been helping students navigate the application and essay process, the essay itself has become much more important. The reasons are clear. Over the last decade, we have seen increasing numbers of qualified high school students face decreasing numbers of seats available in our universities.

The facts are stark–educators across the country have faced funding cuts that predate the Great Recession, and the ivied walls of academia are no longer impregnable to assault.  Pair that with the awareness that an education at a good college is increasingly a bottom line item for a decent job and quality of life, and you have a supply and demand problem:  If you present a 4.0 GPA to most competitive universities, you are essentially in the middle of the pack.  The result:  your application essays can be vital to your chance of being admitted.  But I have to add something here: it is as bad as it looks if you apply to the same 12-15 colleges that everybody else applies to, but once you widen your list a bit, it looks much better.  See below for links related to statistics and to finding more options than the Ivies, Stanford, Cal and whatever two or three regional favorites dominate the application lists in your area.

The information available on this blog is for the free use of college applicants and essay writers.  Use it to help you get started before you send your work to me.  Topics range from general discussions about the craft of writing to specific discussion of college essay topics and the changing world of college applications. I also review trends in admissions and changes occurring in the world of academia.

The contents of this blog are intended for the use of college applicants and their parents to assist them in the college application process and in developing quality application essays. Please refrain from using this blog for your own commercial purposes. If you wish to duplicate any of this information, please contact me to explain and request the right to do so.  Full access to sample content is available via a subscription.  Contact wordguild@gmail.com to subscribe.

Writing about a Quote for Princeton–Who Needs a Book When You’ve Got an Essay?

In Essay Beginning With a Quote, Harvard Application Essay, Intellectual Experience Essay, Princeton Application Essays, Princeton Application for the Class of 2022, Princeton Quote Essay, Uncategorized, Writing an Essay About a Quote on July 20, 2017 at 12:44 am

Who should read this:  anybody interested in writing a Princeton Application Essay, or the Harvard Application (that book/intellectual interest prompt, still going strong) or the Stanford Interest short essay or . . . you get the picture.

The broad scope of writing an essay about a quote means some aspects of this post will work for prompts other than Princeton, inside and outside of the Ivy League.  So read on if a quote from an essay, or an essay about an essay, or an essay about ideas is a good topic for you.  

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My final word for those needing a quote essay, or an essay about a piece of writing, or even an essay about an intellectual experience is . . . read an essay. Or a bunch of essays, and grab the ones that really draw you in.  Then have a contest, in which you make the rules, to decide which one to write about and why.  See if you can find anything out about the author and/or otherwise find a framing context for how this essay altered your mind, and you are on your way. Some links provided below, to get you started.  More links and specific authors coming soon on my private site, available by subscription and for my college advising clients.  Read on or simply jump to the end of the post for more on that.

In my last post, I discussed writing about a quote from a book for Princeton.  In this post, I am writing for those who are  frustrated that their book essay looks too much like a school essay, and for those who like to write about ideas but have only had time to do the assigned reading in school and know that this will not set them apart (that’s most folks, these days).  Let’s face it, you do not want ot recycle a school essay on To Kill a Mockingbird or The Great Gatsby, or Twilight.  Kidding on that last one.

Or not, maybe–Have a look at this fun post about the Twilight series for an idea about how not to be boring and stuffy while writing about something you like, even if it is despite yourself:  Geeky Feminist Muses on Twilight.

She uses a series of quotes and has a good time.  You could too, though you won’t have space to wander as much or be as open-ended as she is–you need to make a more clear point, and to turn the attention back to yourself, and you have ca. 500-650 words, depending on what your essay is for (Stanford?  250 words), while this post is part of larger conversation that is itself part of an even larger conversation . . . .as you can see if you keep reading her blog.

And speaking of blogs, you might try looking at a few of them–there are all kinds of essays of superb quality in electronic form, with dozens of good to great sites that are online only, while some old-school literary reviews have migrated at least in part online in ways that work for today.  You will find great essays on some of these as well as discussions linked to essays and to ideas and events—with many quotes and googols of ideas:

Links to great lit and idea blogs

Paris Reviews blog and essay site, The Daily.  Caution for the sensitive:  can be rude.

Gotta follow that with a shout-out to Dave Egger’s old hang, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.    I can’t explain, you just have to click and then keep clicking and reading. Can be rude as well.  Super!

Essays on all kinds up in-the-now topics:  The New Inquiry

The book blog for the New Yorker (Never fear, plenty of essays here):  Page Turner

Science or history guys and gals, the Smithsonian is still going strong, online, and what if you did Crash into a Black Hole?  Huh?

The Los Angeles Review of Books (Great essays, great ideas, started on Tumblr):LARB

Mostly about reading books, but not yo Mama’s buddy-duddy book site: Book Riot

And I cannot leave out N+1.  Most of their stuff is protected:  you have to pay for quality work, they claim– what a crazy idea–but maybe this link will still work:  Now Less Than Ever.

Get reading, as you do, copy cool quotes, add a few lines of context, the title, author and place you got the essay, and you are on your way to some material that you might be able to make something out of.

Did  I say I will be writing about this in more depth, with links to authors, on my private blog? (Subscribers and clients only . . . like those N+1 guys, I believe my work has value . . . it ain’t all free, folks.  Contact me for more information).

How to Write the Princeton Application Essays for 2017-2018

In Princeton Application Essays, Princeton Book Essay, Princeton Engineering Essay, Princeton Quote Essay, Princeton Supplemental Essays, 2017-2018, Uncategorized on July 12, 2017 at 10:52 pm

Who should read this post:  anybody writing the Princeton supplemental essays for 2017-2018.  I discussed the short answers and listing responses in my last post–click here for that–Princeton Supplement 2017-18–then read on below for a complete,  annotated discussion of this year’s Princeton essays.

Let us begin with a quick look at the prompts for this year by looking at what changed since last year.  There are some notable changes, among them the deletion of the Woodrow Wilson topic–for years, Princeton has used Wilson’s “Princeton in the Nation’s Service” speech as the focus for an essay.  Unfortunately, Wilson, former Princeton as well as U.S. president, has, or had some baggage.  He was a kind of walking paradox whom  some have described as a Progressive Racist–see here for more: Woodrow Wilson’s segregation policy.

If you are wondering why I start my discussion of this year’s prompts with a discussion of the Woodrow Wilson prompt that Princeton just dropped, the answer is simple:  the politics of campuses impacts the policies of admissions.  And I would point out that the second and third prompts, below, represent a kind of counter to the recent imbroglio over the racial views of Woodrow Wilson, who many students at Princeton would like to see erased from campus.  

Does this mean you need to write an essay on race or race relations?  Not necessarily–it’s more advice about what I would call atmospherics–keep in mind that our supposedly post-racial country has rediscovered its problem with race as well as with economic inequality, and the disappearance of President Wilson from the prompts roster at Princeton is one sign of that.  Also keep in mind the potential pitfalls of writing about disparities and problems of race and money– looking arrogant or paternalistic or simplistic or self righteous as you insert yourself into the problems of others.  So if you choose to write about culture or disparities, try to do so without looking like some kind of imperialist in a pith helmet.

Also try not to sound like a reheated version of a ’60’s radical.  Times have changed and the problems that remain over time have evolved.

So with that preface,  let’s look at the prompts, with my annotations and links.

  • Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.–So let’s not write about Woodrow Wilson, even if some aspects of his vision were good and useful–the League of Nations, for example.  I have discussed this topic at length in several other posts–the person of influence is a tried-and-true subject–so click here for much more detail on this topic:  Writing About a Personal Influence (part 1) 
  • “One of the great challenges of our time is that the disparities we face today have more complex causes and point less straightforwardly to solutions.” Omar Wasow, assistant professor of politics, Princeton University and co-founder of Blackplanet.com. This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University.  Back in the dark old days of ’07-’09 and the years following the Great Recession, inequality was all the rage.  Literally.  And phenomenon like the Occupy movement aimed right at these problems.  Here we are a decade later, and these inequalities have only grown worse (while the banks have grown bigger).  You can find interesting commentaries on many aspects of inequality in the U.S. of A, from Vance’s  Hillbilly Elegy to Coates’ Between the World and Me I can strongly recommend both, with the warning that writing about  topics like poverty and race pretty much demands a preexisting interest in things like politics, sociology and economics, and that you have done some reading outside of class–you know, current events.  And reading books like those I link can be useful, but you are writing an essay about a personal concern here, not a book report–or about personal experience.  Keep that in mind.  The best personal statements have a personal connection, to your experience, interests, and moral sense–as well as to your past involvement.  Don’t suddenly become a civil rights advocate or advocate for the poor just in time to write this essay.  For some more guidance on how to write about a topic like this, my old post on the service essay for Princeton actually (and perhaps ironically) works well– click to the right and scroll down to find the quote about not being a hand wringer, and read from there. 
  • “Culture is what presents us with the kinds of valuable things that can fill a life. And insofar as we can recognize the value in those things and make them part of our lives, our lives are meaningful.” Gideon Rosen, Stuart Professor of Philosophy and director of the Behrman Undergraduate Society of Fellows, Princeton University. Culture gives everything from a world view to food to ideas about who should wear what on their head and when; it is a kind of agreement about what is real and how to act.  And like fish in water, we do not really understand our own culture until we live in another.  For many of you, this probably happens every day, as you go from one culture at home to another at school and with friends.  This essay is probably the easiest for those who have that kind of experience.  On the other hand, as our current president recently argued in Poland, there are a set of ideas that may loosely be described as Western–but I don’t think that the president’s speech actually reflected ideas like empiricism, openness to new ideas . . . free thinking . . . . which I consider hallmarks of Western Civ, at least as ideals for the last four hundred years.  Certainly the Western or European culture that arose in Rome and led to the Enlightenment created a set of important ideas, one of them being expressed in the clause, “We hold these truths to be self evident,  that all men are created equal . . . ”  Notice how that piece of paper, arising out of the foment of ideas in a culture at a specific time led to a new culture . . . that of the United States.  But back to the president’s speech:  you don’t have to argue for  a war of cultures to describe the influence and nature of your culture.   
  • Using a favorite quotation from an essay or book you have read in the last three years as a starting point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world. Please write the quotation, title and author at the beginning of your essay. So my first point is that they do not want a book report or even an essay focused on an interpretation of a book–the idea is more to extend an idea from the book into your own experience or view of the world.  On the other hand, you should at least give some sense of context to the quote.  I have written about this prompt before–it’s been a standard prompt for Princeton for at least seven years–but as the post is long and covers other information, instead of linking it, here’s the part you are interested in: First let me digress yet again, to Michel de Montaigne, the guy who developed the essay as a literary form and who also initiated many of his essays with a quote which conveyed an idea that he would develop throughout the essay.  He  quoted from classical authors frequently, both to frame his own arguments and to bolster them.  Therefore, I send you now to another link in which I mention this hero of letters, where I also provide a second link to a good article about his life and essays, though I hasten to add that he was sometimes better in theory than in practice–his disappearance to the countryside during an episode of the plague has been questioned by more than a few–but his essays are great and we should, I think, use caution in judging others.

Now to the central problem of this prompt:  starting with a quote can be hackneyed and the quote intro can also be used thoughtlessly or clumsily–for example, by jumping from the quote to a more-or-less unrelated idea in such a way that the quote is really an excuse to start an essay more than a true starting point.  And don’t force the book and your experience together.   You can write a great essay which references your life to knowledge found in a book, but it is vital that the quote–and the book–relate somehow to your experience in an honest way.  See my discussions of writing about books which may help you with the thought process, though rather than finding a way to link a book to a book, you look for a single book to relate to your life.  Be sure that the quote you used is not taken out of context, and that you deal with the essay or book as a whole.

If you searched “Essays that start with a quote,” in addition to finding a number of college application essay books, you’ll also find web pages explaining how clichéd and terrible these essays are.  If you were cynical, you might draw the conclusion that this essay is a trap.  An optimist might argue that Princeton is trying to breathe life into a venerable style of essay.  My view is, it depends on what you do with it.  Anything which is treated witlessly can become a cliché.

Alternatively, you can write a quote-based essay that is more obscure than an 8th Grade Confessional Poem Using Only Adverbs.  Be sure not to  make your reader have to figure out what the quote has to do with everything else in the essay and if you use multiple quotes, be sure that they are suitable and relate to what is around them.

The idea is that the opening quote should be integrated into or lead naturally into the opening paragraph and so flow on through the rest of the essay.  It might be best to look at a few examples of folks who know how to work a quote into an essay–you might try reading some Montaigne, or for a modern idiom, you could try this link, to Paul Theroux’s the Old Patagonian Express, and read pages 3-6, which don’t begin with a quote, but he soon uses multiple quotes.  This three-page section of the book has been excerpted as an essay and gives a good example of thought and action as Theroux looks at himself in relation to others engaged in the same activity.

I also suggest that you visit the New York Review of Books, which always has an article which discusses a series of new or recent titles and puts them in perspective. Have a look at my posts on writing about books, starting with this one, and you may find some useful passages for your purposes in this quote essay–be aware that the NYRB articles are meant largely to discuss books but many wander far afield in ways that may give you ideas on writing an essay tying your own life to what you have found in a book.

In the same vein, In the link here, you will find an NYRB discussion of Michael Lewis’ Boomerang, an especially good book and article for those of you interested in the social and economic problems that led to Occupy, and that in part also fueled our current political fire –it’s a good model for how to discuss a book both in relation to oneself and to the larger world, which is part of what they want from you in this prompt.  Of course, you should also be able to show yourself doing something beyond simply observing.  It would help, of course, if you were a participant in some sort of action, though the author shows his own ability to think and does act on his principles by reporting on the book and the world around us.

Here are two  more specific examples from Joan Didion; both are a factor of magnitude longer than the 500 word essay but they still give you the flavor and an example of how to work with quotes.  Notice that some of Didion’s essays could be cut down to a three-paragraph excerpt and, with perhaps a sentence or two of more direct exposition, work as a short essay, like the one you want.

“Goodbye To All That”

“On Self Respect”, in which Didion quotes from herself to get things going.

Oh, last but definitely not least:

Engineering Essay*

If you are interested in pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree, please write a 300-500 word essay describing why you are interested in studying engineering, any experiences in or exposure to engineering you have had and how you think the programs in engineering offered at Princeton suit your particular interests.

*This essay is required for students who indicate Bachelor of Science in Engineering as a possible degree of study on their application.

This calls for research into your area(s ) of interest, looking not just at majors and classes, but at specific interesting research, at who is doing it, at whether any undergrads are involved, at where you would like to take it.  If your ambition is to create the next breakthrough in batteries, you’d want to be looking at what they are doing there at Princeton and who is doing it.  A little name dropping of professors and description of projects can be useful here.  Even if the research is obviously post-grad, hey–you want to be at the source, in that environment, learning those cutting-edge ideas.  

And here’s the deal with this Engineering Supplement to keep in mind:  there is an additional supplement for engineers because places like Princeton are getting too many folks who want to be engineers but are, hmm, great test takers, super at math, good at enough other stuff to qualify, but lacking in practical skills–many have hardly ever built anything, having been too busy prepping for college–and also lacking in people skills.  So keep that in mind–try to find a way to look engaged, hands-on (as possible), and interested in the welfare of others–which after all, is really what engineering is all about:  building bridges both virtual and real and giving the rest of use tools that make our lives better, or even save our lives.

I will be returning to this engineering essay, as well as the Yale and Cornell engineering essays as an example of the tell-us-what-you-are-going-to-do essay pretty soon, so  come on back if that fits your goals.  NB–This post will be partly behind a paywall, but I will offer some good general advice on this kind of essay in the publicly visible version.