Scoop! The Cornell University Application Essay Prompts for 2015-2016

If you’ve been waiting to start the Cornell essays, wait no more.  They’re Baaack.

Like many schools,  Cornell has posted a form with the prompts for this year ahead of the official unveiling when the Common App goes live on August 1st.  The “2016” application has been posted for those who will use a paper application with the Universal App.  The essay prompts are the same no matter what format you use, paper or eletronic, Common Application or Universal Application, so you can start writing now.

And the news for this year’s Cornell prompts is good:  only one important change has been made, and that change eases confusion and lessens the pressure on you to write a Swiss-army knife of an essay.  I will post the prompts in full, below my brief explanation here:

Alternate College Option is Gone

The big change for Cornell in 2015-2016 is this:  as I reported earlier this year, Cornell is dropping the alternate college designation on their applications.  Cornell used to offer applicants the option to write one supplemental essay, but to aim it at a primary college and a second, alternate college option.  So in the past you could choose the alternate option and then you wrote an essay for your dream college that was also supposed to work for another college, just in case.  Thus the Swiss-army knife allusion.

However, unlike a Swiss-army knife, which actually works pretty well based on my experience, an essay written for one specific college is not likely to work very well for a second college–this observation also based on my experience.  In writing an essay that might work for a fallback subject of study, you are more likely to hurt your chances of creating a good essay in the first place.  Given the low number of admits to alternate colleges, Cornell has (mercifully) killed this option.  Thanks, Big Red.

Confused by all this talk of colleges when you only want to go to that place called Cornell?  Here’s the gist:  Universities are subdivided into smaller units.  Usually this is done by dividing the university into less broad units called colleges, and then dividing those colleges into more specific schools, which house one or a limited number of majors.  I  talked about this in my earlier post on Cornell as well, and detailed how Cornell specifically divides itself into various colleges, et al, so if you did not click and read above, click and read now:  Cornell’s schools and colleges.  This earlier post also ties into looking at majors, and I link you to some specific example material at Cornell to get you started, so it’s worth a read as a broad introduction to subjects of study (college majors, in other words) and to Cornell specifically.

It’s also a good place to start thinking about the kind of application essay that asks you to explain why you want to attend the university, or how you plan to use your education at the university, or what attracts you to the university, or what about the university engages you intellectually . . . I could go on, but these are all basically the same prompt.  And this prompt will require you do do some research on the university, narrow down the schools of interest, then start digging deeper, into and including looking for research of interest that is going on at the university and within your target college, then into specific people doing the research, as well as looking for facts and video material, up to and including lectures, and anything else that is pertinent–and what is pertinent includes anything that is authentically interesting to you and that might also be useful in an app essay. 

Just avoid that mistake of confusing the options for an undergrad with those for graduate study only.  Some stuff you find online will not be available to you as an undergrad, and it would sound either ignorant or pretentious  to write as if you were going to be a (graduate) assistant for Professor Bigshot–as an incoming freshmen.  T.A.’s and G.A.’s are almost always grad students.

If you are looking at an M.B.A. program page online, for example, you are in the wrong place.   Go back to the undergrad programs (and try the M.B.A. again in four or more years).

I will write again soon about how to research subjects within a university (provided the application editing I do does not turn into a deluge earlier than planned).  In the meantime, Oh Future Big Red, read the prompts below, and start clicking and reading on the Cornell website–and taking notes.  Keep in mind that you should be talking about Cornell as much as yourself.  And in the process, you may make up or change your mind about what it is you want to study. Good luck and e-mail me (soon–space is going) if you need editing help.  Here are the Cornell prompts for 2015-2016–and yes, they are the same as last year, except for dropping the alternate college:


College Interest Essays
The primary focus of your college interest essay should be what you intend to study at Cornell. Please respond to the essay question below (maximum of 650 words)  that corresponds to the undergraduate college or school to which you are applying. Be sure to include your full legal name exactly as it appears on passports or other official documents and date of birth, and attach the page to the back of this form. (Special note here:  the Cornell Application pdf linked below states the max words at 500, the Common App site on 8/9/15 stated a max wordcount of 650 for the same essays–as it has since 7/1/15.  Which leads me to question if Cornell is penalizing those who submit a paper app (the pdf with a limit of 500 words) or if this is a bureaucratic snafu–anybody at Cornell or elsewhere can use the comments at the bottom of this prompt to let me and everybody else know.  In the meantime, submit electronically to evade this odd 500 word limit on the paper app–even if you have to walk miles from your cabin in the woods to go online, I guess.  Okay, back to Cornell’s instructions):

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences:

How have your interests and related experiences influenced the major you have selected in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences?

College of Architecture, Art, and Planning:
Why are you excited to pursue your chosen major in AAP? What specifically about AAP and Cornell University will help you fulfill your academic and creative interests and long-term goals?

College of Arts and Sciences:
Describe two or three of your current intellectual interests and why they are exciting to you. Why will Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences be the right environment in which to pursue your interests?

College of Engineering:
Tell us about an engineering idea you have, or about your interest in engineering. Describe how your ideas and interests may be realized by—and linked to—specific resources within the College of Engineering. Finally, explain what a Cornell Engineering education will enable you to accomplish.

School of Hotel Administration:
The global hospitality industry includes hotel and foodservice management, real estate, finance, entrepreneurship, marketing, and law. Describe what has influenced your decision to make the business of hospitality your academic focus. What personal qualities make you a good fit for SHA?

College of Human Ecology:
How have your experiences influenced you to consider the College of Human Ecology and how will your choice of major(s) impact your goals and plans for the future?

School of Industrial and Labor Relations:
Tell us about your intellectual interests, how they sprung from your course, service, work or life experiences, and what makes them exciting to you. Describe how ILR is the right school for you to pursue these interests.

And finally, for those who want it straight from the font, here it is:

Cornell University Supplement for 2016 (UCA version in pdf format)

(Note that Cornell dates their application forms by the year of admission–you will be entering in the fall of 2016, thus this is the 2016 application.  Other colleges use other systems (e.g. the class that enters in 2016 is usually called the class of 2020, and some schools will call you that.  Optimistic, that’s what they are.  Cornell apparently doesn’t look that far down the road.)  Good luck, come back soon, and contact me if you need editing.

Application Frenzy Leads to the Rise of the Fraudsters

Application Frenzy Leads to Cheating

If you are applying to an American university from China, beware:

As reported recently on CNN, some folks have set up shop essentially to ghost write applications–from essays to recommendations.  This is specifically focused on China, but I know for a fact that similar services are available in the U.S. and anywhere else with internet access.   CNN’s narrow focus on China, a place which seems to be a bogeyman for U.S. media and politicians–at least when Russia is not on the front page–is a bit lazy. Having said that, this is a problem for many Chinese applicants, who do not understand the process and ethos of applying to a college in the United States, and who are sold a (false) bill of goods by companies promising college admissions to clients who do not understand the process.  American universities view this as cheating, at best.

Cutting to the chase, my advice on cheating on college applications is simple:  For those of you tempted to do this, please don’t.  Do not listen to a business that promises they can fill out your application and write your essays–this is considered fraud by all universities that are legitimate, both in the United States and outside of it.  And chances are these businesses are reusing materials to patch together applications in a kind of paper assembly line.  Even if a manufactured application did evade detection, it will be a generic approximation of you, which means that it will not be as persuasive as materials you yourself have developed–in other words, even if you are not caught right away, the application is not likely to work at a competitive college.  Because it is essentially hollow, it just won’t be good enough.

Plagiarism has long been a problem on classwork, and cheating on assignments often results in expulsion, but universities are now turning more attention to plagiarism on college applications–see the video here for more: plagiarized college applications.  The most commonly used method for screening essays and other written work for plagiarism is the Turnitin service.

Instead of cheating, create a more diverse list of schools to ease the pressure, ignore the frenzy around the same 10-15 colleges everybody wants to apply to, and get some help editing your essays.  Be aware that any plagiarism or fraud in a college application can lead not just to the student being rejected immediately (usually with no explanation–and you simply wasted your money and time on the application).   No, a “successful” fraudulent application can have repercussions later–you will be expelled after you have already enrolled and studied, even for years, if part of your application is later found to be forged. 

And please keep in mind that, while Turnitin has been in use for years in screening graduate applications, Turnitin itself was not the first essay screening program–a number of universities wrote and used their own software years before Turnitin became the go-to site for plagiarism screening–and at this point, this is a widely accepted way to deal with cheating.

The largest application portal, The Common Application, has explored using Turnitin in recent years, and though I have not yet heard of adoption for the coming application cycle, this does not mean that Common App schools cannot themselves use Turnitin on your essays–more and more do.  See Turnitin’s description of their service, here:  Turnitin for Admissions.

Leaving aside the practical matter of getting caught and denied–or getting caught down the road and expelled from your university–cheating is bad news on many levels, personally and more broadly.

Who wants engineers, doctors and others who have cheated their way into a profession? And who wants to secretly think of him or herself as a phony?

There is a huge gulf between using an editing service like mine to help you craft better essays and copying an essay–or having someone write on for you.  Both of the latter can lead to you being expelled due to plagiarism/fraud in your application.  So get some help, as needed, but use a process like mine, that is interactive and that helps you grow as a writer.

Okay, sermon over.  Good luck with your apps and contact me for detailed and economical professional editing.

Trends in College Applications for 2015-2016: Increased Competition, and Data for Foreign Students Applying to American Universities

Increasing Pressure in College Applications Overall

The trend is for increasing competition for spots at the super-selective elite schools–Stanford and the Ivy League, the big Midwestern brands (U  Chicago, Northwestern, U Michigan) and others.  This trend is spreading, as applications increasingly flow out to what were previously considered “safety” schools, which then report lower rates of acceptance and higher average GPA and test scores for admits.  Rates of admission have been trending down across the board for over a decade at selective schools.

For some specific data on current application trends, have a look at my summary of trends from last year’s applications to the Ivies, the University of California system and some others here:  Application results from 2014-2015.  (Further data on GPA and test score averages from the 2014 application cycle are added to this post on my subscription-only website, which is $15 for the full application season through May, 2016.  Contact me for a subscription.)

Back to the overall application trends:  Keep in mind that more  applicants are applying to more schools, which inflates the number of rejections, but there is a reality behind the increased competition that has nothing to do with inflated application rates.

Higher education is probably our most successful domestic industry in the United States–in contrast to higher education, American tech companies, which are  regularly cited as the greatest source of American innovation, outsource most of their work internationally, with Apple as a poster child of this.   Very little education labor is outsourced, and U.S. colleges are major draw, with 886,000 foreign students enrolled in American universities for the 2014-2015 school year.  Contrast this to the 819,000 foreign students in 2012-103, and the trend is clear.  A recent Brookings institute study showed that many of these same students end up working for American companies–

“Forty-five (45) percent of foreign student graduates extend their visas to work in the same metropolitan area as their college or university. Metro areas that retain high shares of their foreign graduates under the temporary Optional Practical Training (OPT) program tend to be either large diversified economies (e.g., New York, Los Angeles), or specialized labor markets that align closely with foreign graduates’ training (e.g., Honolulu, Seattle, Las Vegas).

These findings suggest that foreign students can provide important economic benefits to their U.S. metropolitan destinations—serving as bridges back to their growing home cities and offering valuable skills to local employers. More metropolitan leaders should emulate leading practices that capitalize on the knowledge and relationships of foreign students to strengthen local economies while also maximizing students’ educational and professional experiences in the United States.”

The same Brookings report also shows that 2/3 of foreign students in the U.S. apply to STEM or business majors, compared to less than half of American applicants (48%).  This, of course, also represents a problem for those of you applying from outside the United States in terms of differentiating yourself in your application, particularly as you deal with the emphasis on extracurricular activities and supplemental materials, like essays.  See my post explaining the two kinds of college applications here–The Secret to College Admissions: How Applications are Evaluated.

Industries like domestic auto manufacturing should envy the brand appeal of American higher education, but despite its appeal, the United States as a whole has not been making much of an investment in any public goods and services, including universities–in one extreme example, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin has been  massively cutting funding for universities, taking a cue from his hero, Ronald Reagan, who argued from 1968 on that higher education was  privilege that should be financed by those “using” it.   Which is too bad, because U Wisconsin has been a top pick in a number of disciplines, but when universities face budget problems, I factor that in to my evaluations of them as target schools.

In places like California, campus growth has not kept up with population growth.  This trend is not likely to change anytime soon, either.   Even with predictions that the number of high school graduates will begin to decline in the next decade, the application trend is still going to be up–and I don’t hear a lot about building more campuses, except with some satellite campuses for some schools in places like Abu Dhabi.

Add to that the fact that college and postgraduate education does attract more applicants to the U.S. from around the world every year, and you will continue to see increase competition between domestic and foreign applicants for seats. This has led to a rise in what I call College Application Factories, which promise everything from “original” college application essays to entire applications, manufactured to your specifications.  Among the many problems this raises is the fact that most of the applications are essentially formatted responses, including essays that are little better than fill-in-the blank pages, and the fact that this is outright fraud, which will cause the applicant to be rejected if it is caught on submission, or expelled when the application is found to be fraudulent after the fact.  Not good.  I will write about this more in my next post.

In the meantime, scan my website for this year’s application prompts and start your application essays soon.  Cheers.

What’s New in College Applications in 2015-2016: New Wrinkles for the University of California and How to Get a Letter of Recommendation

Who should this post–anybody applying to a University of California campus; anybody particularly interested in U.C. Berkeley; anybody who needs to get a letter of recommendation; and anybody interested in enrollment categories for sexual identity–an evolving field, as you will see.

Changes for the University of California, Berkeley application.

New Wrinkle #1:  More Recommendations Allowed–and How To Ask for a Letter of Recommendation.

U.C. Berkeley is piloting an admissions policy allowing two letters of recommendation.  If this seems like a small thing, multiply it by 75,000, which is my lowball estimate for the number of applicants to Berkeley this coming year.

This optional letter of recommendation adds to an already very large paper load that will have Berkeley hiring at least 100 outside application readers to support the  staff on campus.   Reinforcing my point that you need to give the application webpage of each university a close read, so far U.C.B. is the only campus in the U.C. system to announce this two-recommendation policy–and this change suggests that they are continuing to tinker with their holistic evaluations and feel the need for more information.

What should you do?  Get the second letter, of course.  But please do not try to send more than two letters. Or candy, or personal notes or any other extras not explicitly identified by the school.

Here is how to go about getting letters of recommendation:  If you haven’t been cultivating your counselor and a few teachers, you had better put some time in your calendar to visit a few teachers and your counselor in the opening weeks of school.  Choose teachers you had a good relationship with in subjects that you like.

Counselors are almost always a must for letters of recommendation, and they are uniquely situated to give a recommendation that is relevant to your specific school and situation, but I advise leaving counselors off the casual visit list for the first week or two  of school–if you need to make a class change or have some other business in the first week or two, then yes, use that appointment to  tell them you will be needing two rec letters and you’d like their help on this. Be warm and polite.   If you are stuck with a bad counselor, however, it’s better to opt for two teacher recs or to choose some other adult with a position that would get some respect (your neighbor Joe may like you, but unless he’s your neighbor Joe, VP for Google or Supreme Court Justice of the State of Wherever You Live, I would stick to school teachers and officials for this.  There are interesting stories of celebrity letters of recommendation that did not work out or that backfired, by the way.)

Do keep  in mind that it is crazy hectic for counselors in weeks one and two as they handle early year change of schedule requests, et al.  Be patiently and politely persistent, as needed.

For your teachers, however,  the first week of school is usually a good time to say hello.  They have a lot to do, but usually do not yet have a large paper load sitting on the desk, so visit two or three favorite teachers from your junior year, then follow up again once or twice before you make the ask for a letter or recommendation.   And make the ask by the end of the first month of school if you have any early apps–I like my clients to allow a two-week window for letters of recommendation.   Never ask for a letter the day before it is due unless you come bearing gifts and genuflecting.  The stronger and more genuine your connection to any person writing a letter of recommendation, the better chance that you will get a good letter.  M.I.T. has emphasized recommendations for years, and what they say about their letters applies to all letters of recommendation:

“. . .letters of recommendation hold substantial weight in our admissions decisions. A well-written letter for an outstanding applicant can highlight impressive characteristics beyond his/her own self-advocacy. We are looking for people who have and will make an impact – the difference between a letter that supports and a letter that raves about a special student.

Both guidance counselor and teacher evaluations are most helpful when they are specific and storied. They should provide us with the information and impressions we cannot glean from the rest of the application. Try to give a complete sketch of the student and the context of his/her accomplishments. Support your conclusions with facts and anecdotes whenever possible. A story or incident that conveys the character or merit of the individual is more telling than a mere statement like ‘Mary is mature.’ ”

There you have it–try to set up the information you provide to letter-writers for any university so it feeds into the M.I.T. description above.

Finally, you should be shaping the letters by providing information that you think will help you to the people who will write your recommendation.   Writing up an outline, having a focused summary, these are good ideas.  Providing a huge resume, maybe not so much.  Pick the things you need to show from the information below, and write up one page to offer to the people you ask to write you a letter.  For more, look below at what the U.C. asks for:

U.C. Berkeley’s Guidelines for Letters of Recommendation

Guidelines for the letters:  At least one letter must be from an instructor, the second from somebody you select who knows you well (could also be a teacher),   the letters are recommended to be one page long . . . and here is what the letters should address:

• Academic performance and potential (both overall and in the context of the class)
• Love of learning
• Leadership (in school, family, or community)
• Persistence in the face of challenges
• Cross-cultural engagement
• Originality/Creativity
• Demonstrated concern for others

New Wrinkle #2: The University of California system and the Politics of Sex

Or maybe just the demographics of the student body.  That is what the U.C. says in explaining their new option to identify your sexual preference–this is system wide, not just for Berkeley–and is in addition to the existing identity choices you will make.   I think the visibility argument made by those in the LGBT community who argued for outing people in the closet in recent decades has proven to be true, given the rapid change in social attitudes toward gay marriage, et al, as LGBT people have indeed become more visible (sometimes unwillingly).   I think the U.C. is also correct in arguing that the information helps them to allocate resources for health, counseling, and other services.

On the other hand, and maybe I am just showing my age, I am not a big fan of passing over personal information in most circumstances, and the more personal, the more reluctant I am to offer it.  But leaving aside my personal feelings and the fact that a decent number of high school seniors still have a lot of questions about their sexual identity, let’s look at what’s in it for you:

Should You State Your Sexual Preference/Identity?

Whether the U.C. will, going forward, try  to balance enrollment categories like percentage of LGBT students, or cohorts within this category is an interesting question–certainly the U.C. and other holistic schools try to include a representative sample of students in other categories, so why wouldn’t they try to create a “balance” in sexual identities, on campus as well?  Over time of course.  This is their first year with this option, so there will not likely be any formal percentage of balance they look for in their results.

As for a possible edge in applications this year, U.C. readers are instructed to look for “stressors” that may promote a student–like being a low-income student from a rough neighborhood, which can help promote an applicant in the holistic review (click here if you do not know what a holistic evaluation is and entails:  the secret to college admissions.)  So if you are LGBT, I would recommend identifying here this year, particularly if you are going to be bringing this up in an essay and/or it has been a stressor for you.

It is still not easy even in ‘liberal’ environments to be openly LGBT, and any obvious obstacles you have overcome now become an argument that you are a good candidate for admission–a person with good grades and extracurriculars who has had to tough out a bad situation while getting those grades and accomplishments gets an edge over good grades and accomplishments by a student on  Easy Street.

And while you want to be very cautious about pandering to your perception of an average U.C.  app reader’s feelings–which are impossible to know, though likely fairly liberal in sexual politics–and equally cautions about claiming victimhood or otherwise using an obvious emotional appeal, the facts of your life are the facts.  Just choose wisely which ones need sharing in applications.

What’s New in College Applications for 2015-2016: Cornell, and How to Explore Colleges, Schools and Majors

Who should read this post:  Anybody needing to figure out how to explore a major and what it means to pick a college within a university; anybody who does not know what I mean by what I just wrote;  anybody applying to Cornell.

This is the first in a series of posts on details, trends and changes in college applications for 2015-2016. 

There are few seismic changes in college applications for this year, but a lot of small changes and quite a bit of news.  This post will look at changes to Cornell’s application for this year–and will show why you want to visit and read each college’s application webpages closely.

For an update on college applications data showing admissions trends for Cornell, the Ivy League and others, you will want to see my recent post on trends from last year’s app cycle.

Tinkering with the Details:  Cornell University

The message for this section is simple:  visit each school’s website and look closely at all of the rules and requirements.  Don’t just rely on a cursory look, or on the college applications book you bought, or on what your friend who applied last year did–schools change details of their applications all the time.

New Wrinkle 1: Spring Admissions

Cornell introduced a spring admissions option for last year’s applicants–instead of starting in the fall of 2015, a small number of students will begin school in spring of 2016.  This total of 125 spring admits was added to the planned enrollment for the class of 2019.  All universities have a certain amount of attrition each year, particularly when enrolled freshman students choose not to return.  In the Ivy League schools, the number of students who  feel alienated or overwhelmed or for some other reasons choose to go somewhere else for their sophomore year is generally very small.  In Cornell’s case, the most recent data shows that they lost 3% of their enrolled freshman–about 431 total for the last available year of data.   This certainly played a role in Cornell’s move to create what is in essence a half-year gap enrollment option, filling in some of the slots that open when students leave, but it also seems a genuine effort to offer some additional opportunity–and it is worth a look particularly if you have plans for a gap year.  June to January may be enough of a year off . . . For more on this and for a profile of the enrolled class from last year, read this:  Cornell Class of 2019.

New Wrinkle 2: The End of Alternate College at Cornell, and What is a College within a University Anyhow?

Cornell is deleting the alternate college option in their application.  In the past, applicants selected a primary college to which they were applying and then had the option of designating an alternate college–the idea being that you could increase your chances of admission by selecting two areas of interest.  Of course this meant that specific foci in essays would not work so well for the alternate, and Cornell concluded that there was no real benefit to students (or for Cornell app readers) in the extra paperwork– Cornell is liberal in allowing students to change their educational paths, i.e, move to a new major and college/area of study.  So the alternate college option gone, but we can still talk about:

Majors and Colleges

If this confuses you, here’s the deal:  all universities are divided into smaller units that house  specific areas of study.  These subdivisions within the university as a whole are called colleges or schools. Something like a college of engineering is pretty much self-explanatory, but most universities also have very diverse colleges/schools, like Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences, which includes everything from a Comparative Literature major to an Astronomy or Chemistry or Anthropology major.   Majors are still more specific areas of study pursued by individual students and defined by a selection of required classes that lie within the college or school that houses the major.

Here is how Cornell breaks itself down:
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
College of Architecture, Art, and Planning
College of Arts and Sciences
College of Engineering
School of Hotel Administration
College of Human Ecology
School of Industrial and Labor Relations

You would want to use the information for the college that houses your areas of interest to identify a major or  majors to pursue.  If you are not very clear about what you want to do, just go to the various colleges that look interesting and click, click, click to explore what is on offer, going right on down to specific classes and instructors.   The College of Arts and Sciences does  a good job helping you explore majors and minors, so for an example click here:  Cornell Arts and Sciences–and read on to explore the majors and classes they offer.  You can, of course, also explore minors and look at double majors using the same procedure.

I add only that  recent changes in technology are confusing some traditional distinctions–bioengineering, for example, pulls together some of the toughest classes from multiple colleges–at Cornell, Biological Engineering lies within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.  In contrast, while Chem will be a major subject for a Bioengineering student, a straight Chemistry major will be in the College of Arts and Sciences.  Other schools put Bioengineering in their College of Engineering–again reinforcing my message to visit and read closely the information your target schools offer.

As for  supplemental essays and information, Cornell is likely to release the supplement only at the end of this month (I write this on July 16, 2015–plan on July 30-31st for this year’s release, based on recent year openings).  If I pick up an early release of the essays and prompts, I will post it and my analysis.  In the meantime, you should be working on your Common Application essays–click here for the prompts:  Common App Prompts for 2015-2016. 

Scroll past the intro to find the full Common App prompts, followed by the U.C. prompts and others.

Good luck and come back soon.

Example Post from 2015-2016 Essay Analysis–Yale Application Essay Topics for 2015-2016: A.K.A. Tell Us Something About Yourself That is Not on Your Application

Keep in Mind that this post was written for the class of 2020 application–if you are graduating high school in 2017, you will be applying for the class of 2021.  While some or even most of the information below may be true when you apply, I won’t know for sure until July or August, 2016, at which time my Yale post will update.

The Yale essay is ready for you.  Are you ready for the Yale essay?

For most of you the answer will be, I am not ready.  The reason is simple:  most of you will need to have a pretty good grip on the rest of your application–and will need to have written a more-or-less decent draft of your Common Application main essay–before you will know what to write for this Yale essay.  For this year’s Common Application Essay Prompts, see   Application Prompts for 2015-2016.

For the Yale topic and more on writing for the Yale prompt this year, including a roughed-out example essay, continue below:

Yale Essay Topic
Please note that the Yale freshman application will be available on the Common Application website sometime in August. (Note from WordGuild:  The Common App goes offline July 23rd and erases all accounts on the site at that time; when it goes live again on or just before August 1st, you can open an account and upload essays.  My advice:  start essays early and upload late, to give yourself plenty of time.)

The Yale-specific questions will include one additional required essay for all applicants, and one optional essay for prospective computer science and engineering majors. The essay prompts for the 2015-2016 Yale Essay Questions are as follows:

Yale’s essay question is required for all freshman applicants:

Please reflect on something you would like us to know about you that we might not learn from the rest of your application, or on something about which you would like to say more. You may write about anything—from personal experiences or goals to interests or intellectual pursuits. (Please answer in 500 words or fewer).

Yale Essay Prompt Analysis and Advice:

As you can see, it’s tough to say what they might not learn from the rest of your application before you have at least roughed out the rest of your application–remember that you are creating a kind of holograph of yourself composed of basic data (G.P.A., SAT/ACT scores), a list of activities and some short descriptions, accompanied by odds and ends like letters of recommendation–and your essays, which can make or break your application.  I talk about this at more length in this post–how college applications are evaluated.

To add a metaphor, you should look at each part of your application as being a chapter or entry in a book about you.  So write your Common App essay, complete your activities list/descriptions, then write this essay with an eye on filling in the blanks and/or pulling things together.  You want to humanize yourself and, if possible, reveal a passion or strong interest that may help your application.  And when you do write this essay, do NOT simply repeat your activities–but also do not assume that you cannot slide them in somewhere.  Think of this essay as  either  . . .

A Network or a Walkabout

There are two basic ways to approach this question–one is The Walkabout, in which you present a stand-alone activity that you think is interesting enough or humanizing enough to merit a solo, one-off focus.  More about that in a few moments.

The other way is to write a Network Essay–use an interesting or important activity to connect disparate parts of your resume, or to remind the reader of some aspects of you that you think are important (or persuasive as admissions factors). Let’s say you are into math and physics in school, with some connected activities including a robotics team, while outside of school, you like to go fishing and camping  (which you likely cannot do too often as you are an oversubscribed high school student trying to get into college, but let’s say for the purposes of an example essay that you go fishing one or two times a year and are into math and physics and the robotics team).

These do not seem to be connected, but this is a matter of focus–that is the key to and the purpose of a Network Essay.  For example:  Fishing involves physics in a number of ways, starting with putting a lure or a fly where you want it, and getting its parameters right (depth of bait, etc).  This is applied physics and the use of empirical knowledge (How to cast to get the lure to point x, how deep the fish are . . .).  So you might start the essay with a focus on fishing and camping, then use it as a network to connect this unknown part of you to the other parts of you that are clear in the application.  The person described above might do the following, for example, to get this Yale essay started:

Network Essay Example–The Fishing Physics Fan

Whenever I can, I like to pack up the car and disappear for a few days.  I like to cut the electronic tether, escape the ping of texts and pong of e-mail, and go to any one of several locations I cannot disclose. 

I cannot disclose these locations specifically because they are the best places to catch fish in the (pick a region).  And fisherman may tell a lot of tall tales about the one that got away, but no real fisherman ever gives away his Secret Spot to Catch Fish.  And I am a true fisherman.

This might seem an odd thing for a person who spends most of his other free time sitting at a computer coding so that an x can do y (examples not included in this example essay intro) or fiddling with a robot’s arm so it manages to do a instead of b (examples not included in this example essay intro)  but in a way it all fits together–fishing is all about physics and trial and error.  Trying to get a lure to that spot by the sunken log across the mouth of the stream is a matter of telemetry, a problem with many factors–the wind, the current, how deep the water there is . . . (You would expand somewhat here, using concrete detail.)

When I am out in nature fishing, I am really living in the moment in a way that I do not in my daily life at home, but nature  is also really a collection of things we call physics.  Take the lightning storm that was approaching Twin Lakes (sorry, can’t tell you which Twin Lakes) the last time I was there . . . . (Again, you would expand here, but notice how I am tying fishing to  your other interests, to physics . . .)

And then you might end the essay by literally and figuratively coming home (refreshed and refocused) to your more formal experiments in applied physics).

Notice how I am introducing other activities or interests beyond fishing, but they are put into this essay as context for the fishing focus, while simultaneously reminding the reader of specifics in terms of interests and knowledge from your activities sheet and from your academic life.  So the essay emphasizes one thing but shows others by connecting them.  This is what I mean by the network essay–it focuses on something new, on an activity that is either not in or only mentioned in the rest of your application but in the essay on this activity, you touch on other things that it does not hurt to remind the reader about.  All your many features are somehow included.

Here’s why this network approach can be useful:  It does not hurt to remind the reader about some other aspects of your resume or activities because, on average, the app reader will spend about 3 minutes reading each of your app essays–sometimes less–and this rapid reading will come after the app reader has scanned your activities, and is meanwhile thinking about your GPA, etc, and figuring out how to boil it all down to a single number, appended by some comments.

And the app reader is doing this at some point in a day in which he or she has read dozens of other applications and multiple dozens of essays if your application comes up late in the day.  So things will tend to get blurry as the app reader takes notes and assesses you, and the artful reminder of things you want them to remember can help your evaluator–and so help you.  Thus, the network essay which uses an interesting aspect of yourself to connect other, known aspects of your application in an interesting way can be an ideal add to your application.

Oh, and if you think something like fishing (or whatever it is that you do) is not an interesting topic, it depends on what you say about it.  And how you say it.  Contact me if you have something you like to do but think it will look boring in your essay, and I will help you develop your words and do so in a way that works with the rest of your app.

The Walkabout Essay

A walkabout was a rite of passage for a young Australian native, a time spent wandering the bush alone and surviving independently–the word has taken on other meanings, but the walkabout was originally a personal journey for the experience to be had on the journey.  It was also seen as something necessary and transformative, shaping the person who experienced it and propelling him into adulthood.

If you have an activity that is like this, a stand-alone that is also an important part of who you are, something that you do for its own sake,  then you can write a Walkabout Essay exploring this activity.

As an example, are you into math, programming and classical Indian Dance?  The closest you could come to a network essay with these would be to say they are all possible areas of creative expression.

But classical dance is embodied, is a way of knowing that is shown by doing in a way that is not true of math and programming, for your physical self is fully engaged, and it might best be explored as such, as a unique activity that humanizes and adds an interesting dimension to you–and that really offers little connection to your other, more purely mental activities.  Though you may still mention some other activities with the excuse of showing how different this activity is (and so reminding the app reader, however briefly, of those other aspects of yourself.)

The Key to the Walkabout Essay:  Become a Knowledgeable and Interesting Guide

So some level of networking/connection is always a good idea, but the Walkabout essay will really focus on the glories of the activity in the essay.  Classical Indian dance, as an example, embodies much of traditional Indian culture: its gestures are symbolic, and it is influenced by or on a continuum with other specifically Indian activities, like what we now call Hatha Yoga, as well as traditional Indian martial arts–if you become a guide, showing things like this in some detail to the app reader, and so showing your passion, you will have a good  essay–you want your app reader to have that look of surprise and interest that comes when someone learns something interesting, as you reveal the philosophy and history of the dance through some well-chosen examples, while inserting close description about the people and dances you have done and perhaps an amusing anecdote or two.    Inform without lecturing, show by examples and close description instead of simply telling.

And finally–if you are “Saying something more” about an activity or concern that is already on your application/activities, my advice here still applies.

That’s it for now. Get started on your Common App essay while thinking about this essay.  And contact me if you would like some professional editing.  N.B:  Sooner is better than later as things really pick up from August 1st on.

How To Write the Princeton Application Essay in 2015-2016

The post below contains information from the 2015-16 admissions cycle–some of it still applies, some of it does not, depending on which prompt you will use.  For posts on this year’s Princeton application prompts, check these out as well:

Princeton Essay on a Quote (from an essay)

The 2017-2018 Princeton Application Prompts

I have written about several of these prompts before, for the simple reason that the prompts are the same this year (class of 2020) as they were for the class of 2019.  The  Princeton prompts fit into some general categories that I have analyzed, both in posts about more general topics, like Writing About a Quote, or in posts about writing about books as a whole, like How to Write About Books I or in How to Write About Books III, as well as in analysis on the individual prompts–see below for more.
I broke down the Princeton Essays from last year in specific posts, below–and what I said last year applies to the same prompts this year, though some specific references may need updating, like those mentions of the Occupy movement for use on the “disparity” prompt, (Prompt 2).  Last year, Occupy still seemed relevant.  This year, not so much–at least the movement as such.  Of course, the themes and concerns of Occupy are still relevant now, and just wait until the presidential campaign gets out of its warm-up phase–everybody from Hillary Clinton to Jeb Bush claims to be concerned with economic inequality,  largely because  pay has been flat or down in real dollars for going on decades now for most Americans.
Since it’s a hot topic, this also means it’s also an excellent essay choice, so long as you do not come across as preachy, lecturing, etc, et. al. Showing a personal connection to or concern with a problem like this is best, while avoiding bathos, as well as avoiding a patronizing tone.  If you have never taken any interest in inequality, now might not be the best time to start.
On the other hand, a little research might make you genuinely concerned.
Best bets for this topic are those who are majoring in or interested in:  Business and Econ, sociology, psych, politics/government and those who see themselves as innovators with a mission.
For more on the specifics of writing about the Princeton supplements, click below to read my analysis of each prompt:
 I hope this helps you get a good start.  Contact me if you need some editing help–I have a reasonable amount of space as of mid-July, but will my available slots will fill rapidly as the deluge of August 1st application releases approaches.

Scoop! Princeton’s Application Essays for 2015-2016

Otherwise known as application essays for the class of 2020.

I cannot resist scooping my peers and competitors by getting the Princeton prompts up first, so here they are.

While Princeton has not officially released its prompts, they have updated their pdf’s for those filing paper applications, and here’s the deal:  Nothing has changed.  The PDF is for the class of 2020, but the prompts are unchanged from those for the class of 2019 (That’s last year’s applicants, for you).

To save you the search, here are the prompts, followed by a link to my analysis of how to write about them:

Princeton Essay: Your Voice
In addition to the essay you have written for the Common Application, please write an essay of about 500 words (no more
than 650 words and no less than 250 words). Using one of the themes below as a starting point, write about a person, event or experience that helped you define one of your values or in some way changed how you approach the world. Please do not repeat, in full or in part, the essay you wrote for the Common Application.

1. Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.

2. “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; founder of This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University

3. Princeton in the Nation’s Service” was the title of a speech given by Woodrow Wilson on the 150thanniversary of the University. It became the unofficial Princeton motto and was expanded for the University’s 250th anniversary to “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.”

Woodrow Wilson, Princeton Class of 1879, served on the faculty and was Princeton’s president from 1902-1910.

4, 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, chair of the Council of the Humanities and director of the Program in Humanistic Studies, Princeton University.

5. 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.

University of Chicago Essay Prompts for 2015-2016: Crazy and Crazier

Or not.  I like U Chi’s  approach to essays and appreciate the challenge they throw down, and even if their prompts are sometimes pretentiously self aware of cleverness more than they are truly clever, they do open a window of fresh air into the stale halls of the college application essay.  If you need some help with getting into the spirit of things, just chant, “U Chi is to the application essay as Stanford is to the marching band.

One thing you can count on with Chicago is some latitude–the off-the-wall essay is more welcome here than anywhere else–but keep in mind that the usual warnings about being a whiner or offensive still apply. You are still writing to a human audience, and you still need to consider their response to you. And hey, even the Stanford marching band, where “anything goes,”  has discovered that not everything does go.  Same goes for the U Chicago essay.  You still need to use some judgment about how you look on paper.  And conduct some due diligence investigations before you write, otherwise known as research.  More about that below.

Directly below I splice in the U Chicago essay prompts, to save you opening multiple windows–under the prompts, I will begin discussing how to address some of them, including that wonderful new option of choosing an essay prompt from past years to write about.  Here are the prompts, followed by Part I of my analysis:

2015-16 UChicago Supplement:

Question 1 (Required):

How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago.

Question 2 (Optional):

Share with us a few of your favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, pieces of music, musicians, performers, paintings, artists, blogs, magazines, or newspapers. Feel free to touch on one, some, or all of the categories listed, or add a category of your own.

Extended Essay Questions:

(Required; Choose one)

Essay Option 1.

Orange is the new black, fifty’s the new thirty, comedy is the new rock ‘n’ roll, ____ is the new ____. What’s in, what’s out, and why is it being replaced?
—Inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015

Essay Option 2.

“I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.” –Maxine Hong Kingston. What paradoxes do you live with?
—Inspired by Danna Shen, Class of 2019

Essay Option 3.

Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story.
—Inspired by Drew Donaldson, Class of 2016

Essay Option 4.

“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” –Paul Gauguin. What is your “art”? Is it plagiarism or revolution?
—Inspired by Kaitlyn Shen, Class of 2018.

Essay Option 5.

Rerhceseras say it’s siltl plisbsoe to raed txet wtih olny the frist and lsat ltteres in palce. This is beaucse the hamun mnid can fnid oderr in dorsdier. Give us your best example of finding order in disorder. (For your reader’s sake, please use full sentences with conventional spelling).
—Also inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015. Payton is extra-inspirational this year!

Essay Option 6.

In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose a question of your own. If your prompt is original and thoughtful, then you should have little trouble writing a great essay. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun.

Essay Option 7.

In the spirit of historically adventurous inquiry, to celebrate the University of Chicago’s 125th anniversary, please feel free to select from any of our past essay questions.

College App Jungle Advice and Analysis on the U Chicago Prompts for 2015-2016 Part I

Things not to do in the U Chicago essay:

No true confessions of your darkest thoughts/fears/desires

No whining

No begging

No plagiarism

No (obvious) bragging

Remember:  they do not really know you. There will not be any body language for them to see, no nudge-nudge, wink, wink to convey that you are kidding; they won’t see you outside of the data and activities reported and the essays that you send–as with all college applications, you are a kind of holograph arising from a few screens of words and numbers.  So “honesty” and “being yourself” are hedged terms, even here, and even here you are crafting a self to present to an application reader.  Just ask this:  which of your selves would you let into college?   And then show that self, with maybe a shot of extra zany thrown in.

Things to consider doing:

Research.   You may not end up actually including any new information learned from research in your essay, and in fact your essay should not read like some plodding and serious piece of research, but doing some research helps frame things and may give you some ideas on how to be creatively weird (instead of factually correct and/or boring).  Doing research is always advice I give for the Chicago prompts, which inevitably have some kind of scientific or intellectual background, even when they intentionally warp it, and this is  especially true this year, because Chicago is taking us into the Wayback machine with their last essay option, above, which I repeat here:

Option 7: In the spirit of historically adventurous inquiry, to celebrate the University of Chicago’s 125th anniversary, please feel free to select from any of our past essay questions.

When you click on the past essay questions, you will see that the first option they offer from their past questions is option 2 from last year, what I call the Sapir-Whorf question.  I wrote extensively about this prompt last year, so if you like it, give my commentary a  read before you dive in:  Writing About Option 2 from 2014: Sapir-Whorf.

See what I mean about framing things through research?  This was such a meaty question that I wrote a second post on it, in which I gave more specific suggestions for responding:  Sapir-Whorf Part II.

This example shows why I like the UChi prompts—-yes, you could simply due a non sequitur riff on the question without knowing anything at all, but knowing something helps a lot.

I would also point out that even the non sequitur in comedy depends on knowing what the sequitur is–in other words, if you do not know what is right or customary, you do not know when the comedian is intentionally getting it wrong.  In most cases, comedy appeals to what is broadly known or accepted, as when Steve Martin does a riff on Side Effects.   (Am I dating myself by name dropping this master of nuvo-Dada?  Probably)

So keep in mind, wiseguys and humorists:  Knowing up from down is important if you want to make down into up.

I have written about a number of other interesting prompts from U Chicago in the past, so in keeping with this post’s emphasis on research, you might look at those while you are waiting for my next post on this year’s U Chicago essay prompts:

The Heisenberg Prompt

The Mantis Shrimp Prompt

I think that is enough due diligence for now.  Stay tuned for my next post on U Chicago, and let me know if you need editing–three rounds of editing on single U Chicago essay starts at $160, ready to submit if you follow my editing.  Serious inquiries only, lest your e-mail be converted to processed, canned pork product.  Until next time,



College Admissions Data from 2014-2015 and What It Means for You in 2015-2016

Warning for those used to reading only 140 characters at a time: 

This post has analysis and data on Ivy League applications for the last five years, as well as on the most popular U.C. campuses and a couple of interesting alternative schools (particularly for tech and engineering students).  It may feel like reading War and Peace for those of you whose reading does not generally extend beyond Twitter and text messages. On the other hand, for the labor, you will get a good overview on the trends in elite Ivy and U.C. schools, as well as free advice for saving yourself a lot of application misery–which starts with looking at the data on schools and on yourself.  For more, read on. 

For some things, the past is no longer such a great predictor of the future–the weather, for example.  I just came back from ten days in the Sierra Nevada and the weather reminded me of the monsoon:  thunder, lightning and rain daily, with green grass in the arid ghost town of Bodie–in July.  Go figure.

For other things, the past is still a good predictor of the future–take college applications as an example, in which the forecast is for admissions to be incrementally tougher every year–if you are going to the most competitive schools.  If you are not, relax and enjoy the application process (As much as possible.  Think about it as a challenge, as an opportunity for growth, as . . . a lot of work).

Some Examples That Show the Trends (and Why Averages are not Necessarily for the Average Applicant)

Turning to some specifics for this year, the tale is pretty much the same as it has been for over a decade:  if you want to go to one of the super select colleges, the going is tough and tougher.  Stanford, for example, came close to breaking into the 4% admit range this year, dropping to an all-time low of 5.05% of applicants admitted.  Of course, they do have a relatively small undergraduate population and are a worldwide brand pretty much on par with Disneyland, which means that your average 4.0 GPA can expect to be rejected, but . . . it’s even worse when you look at their average GPA and test scores and realize that they have under 8,000 undergrads and a very full and vibrant athletic program, among other things, which means for the average student, the GPA and test scores listed are not really averages for the average applicant.

Why?   Because those average numbers are skewed by hundreds of athletes, many of whom (but not all, for sure) have somewhat lower GPA and test scores.  And special categories for admits are not just for athletes.  For those who are upset at this, I believe this is actually fair–for one simple reason:  no money, no university.  Universities need to build a happy alumni and athletics are a big part of brand and of donations, and these donations and the happy supporters with their fond memories of tailgating, et al,  pay for all kinds of things, including new facilities, scholarships athletic and otherwise . . . and not only that, many kids who excel athletically but are somewhat underperforming academically for admission to the elite schools they get to attend will still go on to to exceptional work as adults.

And  special admits are not just for jocks.  A math prodigy who is mediocre at other things (yep, they exist) may also jump past an accomplished generalist when it comes to admits.   And a high performing kid from a rough neighborhood may also get a boost–which is okay by me.  It’s fair play for universities to have special categories for everything from athletic branding to social justice. Their game, their rules.  This is true in many areas of life.  Your task is to decide whose game to play.

So getting back go forecasting and data for this year, one easy prediction for your application experience is this:  if you are less concerned with brand and just want a good education,  you have no worries–last year I had multiple clients with C+ averages make it into multiple universities, and clients in the solid B range doing very well with multiple accepts to multiple well-known brands–not in the Ivies or Stanford of course, but getting accepted into a broad range of good schools, public and private.

It’s all about finding a broad range of colleges that will allow you to fulfill your ultimate ends and settling on a good list for your final applications, then having good supplemental materials.  Turning to one of the other popular options in California as a more sane option than Stanford, U.C. Berkeley had roughly a 17% acceptance rate for fall 2015 (still bad, but compared to the Cardinal, this looks very reasonable).

(For more insights into how college applications are evaluated and some thoughts on strategy, have a look at how applications are evaluated and my secrets to college application success.)

Your Takeaway in Only 633 Characters:

Before I get to this year’s data but let me give you my takeaway for this whole post now:

To avoid misery, create good goals and keep those goals in mind when planning for factors that you cannot control (like what the colleges are looking for to fill specific categories this year), without obsessing about fairness.  And be sure that you do not focus only on getting into HYPSM.  These are great schools and offer unique opportunities for their students, but so do most respectable colleges.    And finally, use the CollegeAppJungle cushion formula when creating your college list:  for every Stanford or top Ivy on your list, have one school for which you are average and one school for which you are above average.  You then can reach for your dreams, with a safety net.

Admissions Data for 2015 and Beyond

Okay, that’s enough of the preparatory remarks already; here’s quick rundown of some recent admissions data:

Pretty Scary Data:  Ivy League Results for the 2014-2015 application season (these students will be enrolling for fall semester, 2015-in a couple of months, in other words).


30,397 applied; 8.5% admitted

(2013-2014 data:  30,291 applications; 8.6% admitted–see what I mean by incrementally more difficult each year–this is pretty consistent throughout what follows.)


36,250 applied; 6.1% admitted

(2013-2014: 32,952 applications; 6.94% admitted)


41,907 applied; 14.9% admitted

(2013-2014 data: 43,041 applications; 15.2% admitted)


20,504 applied; 10.3% admitted

(2013-2014 data: 19,235 applications; 11.5% admitted)


37,307 applied; 5.3% admitted

(2013-2014 data: 34,295 applications; 5.9% admitted)


37,267 applied; 9.9% admitted

(2013-2014 data: 35,788 applications; 9.9% admitted)


27,290 applied; 6.99% admitted

(2013-2014 data: 26,641 applications; 7.28% admitted)


30,237 applied; 6.49% admitted–making Yale a bit of an outlier as their numbers softened slightly this year.

(2013-2014 data:  30,932 applications; 6.25% admitted)

And for you uber-STEMers, here is M.I.T:

18,306 applied; 8% admitted

(2013-2014 data:  18,356 applied; 7.9% admitted)

The numbers above could be described as ranging from tough to terrifying, if you are obsessed with the Ivy League and M.I.T.  But keep in mind that there are up to a thousand decent to superb colleges in the Americas, particularly if you break them down by schools or majors (e.g. Colorado College of Mines, the University of Toronto and the University of Michigan, among others, Oh Engineers).  Also be aware when assessing data that all colleges must estimate how many of their admits will actually choose to attend, which affects their admits–this is called yield, and I have written about this here: Why Yield Still Matters.  Ivy League colleges have very high yield, relatively speaking, and so have an even lower level of admits compared to schools with lower yield.

Of course, if you are not totally obsessed with the Ivy League, this data is merely interesting, and using it, along with, say,  a scattergram from Naviance, you can do a cost-benefit analysis based on your chances of admission.  I say, Go for it, given that your average app costs only 50-75 dollars, but have a healthy list of non-super-selective colleges, guided by a healthy perspective on why you want to go to college and what you expect to get from it.

Compare the last two years’ data to a three year trend that takes us from 2013 back to 2011:

Brown–2011: 8.70%; 2012: 9.60%; 2013: 9.16%

Columbia– 2011: 6.93%; 2012: 7.42%; 2013:  6.89%

Cornell–2011: 17.95; 2012: 16.2%; 2013: 15.15%

Dartmouth–2011: 10.14%; 2012: 9.79; 2013: 10.05

Harvard– 2011: 6.17%; 2012: 5.92%; 2013: 5.79%

Princeton–2011: 8.39%; 2012:  7.86%; 2013: 7.29%

U Penn–2011:  12.26%; 2012: 12.32; 2013:10.05

Yale–2011: 7.35%; 2012: 6.81%; 2013: 6.72%

And here is data for M.I.T: 2011: 9.6%; 2012: 8.9%; 2013:8.2%; 2014: 7.7%

M.I.T’s West Coast competitor, Cal Tech, had 11% admitted in 2013, 8% for 2014, for you STEMers who need another point of comparison.  I will update with this year’s data for CT when I get it.

The trend is clear:  steadily down for the most competitive schools, and the seeming upward trend in a couple of cases may be due to the fact that they admit more because more students use them for a backup school,  choosing to attend another school after admissions offers go out–universities  have to calculate this into the admits, much like an airline figuring out how to slightly overbook flights–the difference being that, if a school misses their admit/yield target, they either lose money when they under enroll, or have to find a way to house and provide classes to their excess new students–U.C. Berkeley had a bit of a fiasco with yield some years back and had freshman students living off of cots in rec rooms and hallways of dorms for quite awhile.   See my post on Yield, above, for more on yield.

If the current trend continues, the top three  Ivies will all be under a 5% admit rate a year or so before the next Winter Olympics roll around.  Fear not, however, for I will conclude with some recommendations for dealing with this in a moment–but before I do . . . . let’s get to this:

Getting back to REALLY Scary Data:  Stanford

Stanford–2011:  7.10%; 2012: 6.61%; 2013: 5.69% 2014:  42,167 applicants; 5.07% admitted–and in 2015, only 5.05%, or 2,144 out of 42,487 applicants were admitted.

As I said, really close to that 4% barrier and really likely to break it this year,  based on the trend.  They could decide to forestall this by adjusting and making some space for a slightly larger freshman class, but nothing currently suggest this will happen.  Stanford is the go-to destination for today’s Future Masters of the Universe, really–anybody who wants to launch a good STEM career has Stanford at or near the top of their college list.  So expect yield at Stanford to stay high, and for the Cardinal to drop below 5% during your application season as Stanford  turns down many students who look perfect in terms of numbers.  Other factors, like essays and extracurriculars will play in important role in application results here.  So will institutional needs.

Inconsistent Admission Results

I did have six of my clients be admitted to Stanford in 2013-2014, which was a new high for me, but two of them were outstanding female athletes as well as good students, and the others were nearly perfect, with outstanding essays and interesting backgrounds. This year, so far three have reported admissions, but I have only had formal reports back from about 70% of my clients as of July, so I hold out hope for those who may still be too giddy to respond to my June e-mail request for results and decisions.

I also had other clients who did not get into Stanford, some of whom were admitted into places like Harvard and Yale, and of course those who had admits to both/and.  My  Stanford admits were not admitted to some of the Ivy League schools on their list while being admitted to others.  The upshot on this is simple:  you cannot count on admission to any specific school in the usual short list of top universities–so you should widen your application list.  Do some deep breathing.  Remember that life is not about what college sticker you put on your car.

Have a Good Backup Plan

Let’s start with what West Coast applicants applying to the Ivy League think of as “backup schools:”  U.C. Berkeley and U.C.L.A. (Personally I find the idea that the U.C.’s are somehow second-rate to be hilarious.  Berkeley has been ranked as the top school in the world overall by some ratings systems–not that I am all that impressed by ratings, which usually focus on incomes of graduates and a bunch of less clear metrics, none of which guarantee a good outcome for any individual.  But back to our topic . . .)

U. C. Berkeley–2011:  25.54%; 201221.13%; 2013: 20.83%; 2014: 17.3% admit rate, with 12,795 admitted for fall 2014 out of 73,771 applicants; of these, 65.6% were California residents and 4,401 were out-of-state students; this year’s admits had a weighted average GPA of 4.18, ACT composite average of 31 and SAT reading of 677, Math of 703 and Writing of 691.

Berkeley Update for fall 2015 enrollment:  78,918 freshman/1st year applicants, 13,321 admitted for a 16.9% admit rate, a new low. Yes, a large, “state” school with many applicants and an incrementally more difficult admissions rate, but a much better admit rate than in the Ivies.  Llike the Ivies, the trend is toward tougher admissions, and the drop  in admits at Berkeley is even steeper over recent years than at most other schools–a result of the Ivies, et al, having such low rates of admission that more and more students are dropping out of the Ivy League app race and going straight for the great public universities.  The average unweighted GPA for these admits was 3.91 with an average ACT of 31 and an average SAT of 2093.  For transfers, Berkeley had 17,239 applicants, 93% of whom came from California community/junior colleges; 3,763 or 21.8% were offered admissions this year; compare that to about 23% transfer admits last year and the theme of incrementally increasing difficulty reappears here as well.

U. C. L. A.–2011:  25.28%; 2012: 21.27%; 2013: 21.10; 2014:  18.23% admit rate, with 15,778 admitted out of 86,537 applicants–4,110 of these admits coming from out-of-state. Weighted average GPA for U.C.L.A. in 2014 was 3.94.  For  a complete look at U.C.L.A.’s test average (SAT/ACT) and other data up through 2014, which is rendered in more detail than Berkeley, see this:  U.C.L.A. Averages.

U.C.L.A. Fall 2015 Update:  17.3% admitted, including 16,027 freshman admits out of 92,722 applicants.  This is a pretty good jump downward in admits and upward in applicants for U.C.L.A.  U.C.L. A. also admitted 4,905 out of 20,063 transfer students (mostly J.C. transfers).  Again, you see a relatively easier admissions challenge relative to the Ivies, but also  a relatively steep decline in admits in recent years.

Some Other Schools to Look At

This will be more focused on STEM majors, not because I think STEM is the only way to go (far from it), but rather because so many want a STEM major, and it provides an easy way to focus on a small selection of the thousands of colleges in North America and beyond.

University of Washington

Why not, STEMmers and others?  For you STEM folks who think that Berkeley or Stanford are the only way to go to get a foot in the door of the West Coast Tech Industry, you might have heard of those guys at Amazon and Microsoft up there in the Seattle area (Of the latter, I know, I know, so Old School, but still–one of the biggest and most important tech companies in the world.)  Not to mention those biotech companies and internet companies like Zillow, Expedia, et al and so forth.  Specifically of interest to you computer science and programming folks, U.W.’s Comp Sci school has a truly fantastic new building and a large degree of protected funding dedicated to Computer disciplines–a good thing in today’s challenging  world of educational finances.  For more on that, look here: U Washington Computer Sciences.

Here’s a quick look at UW data:

2012: 26,138 applications, 16,679 offered (55% acceptance rate) with a yield of 6.225; 2013:  30,200 applications, 16,679 accepted (59% acceptance rate) and a yield of 6,049; 2014–Applied 31,611, Accepted 17,451 (55%) Yield 6,361 or 36.4%.

2015 data is pending as of July, 2015–a relaxed approach from a university that is pretty relaxed compared to the Ivies and Berkeley.

Looks doable, doesn’t it?  Of course, some majors will be far more challenging to get into–like those in the computer disciplines–but still not even nearly as tough as the Ivies, Stanford, or the U.C.’s, especially Berkeley, if you are a STEMmer. Of course, there is some rain, but the good coffee and access to excellent salmon offset that . . .

Harvey Mudd

If you haven’t heard of this place, they know it well in Silicon Valley.  And while it is tougher than Berkeley and far tougher than Washington, its data shows that it is a good alternative school for those convinced that the Ivies are the Cat’s Pajamas.  Here some data:

2013:  3,539 applicants; 18% admitted;  2014:  3,678 applicants; 524 admitted (14.2% admit rate);  as of July, I am still waiting for HM to report stats for fall, 2015 enrollment.  One additional point–more than two men apply for every woman who applies to HM  (2,588 men for fall 2014 vs. 1,090 women), but the number of women who were admitted in the last available class (fall 2014) was 255 vs. 269 for the men.  So the advantage is to you ladies.  Though the admit total is admittedly small in both cases.

H.M is a beautiful, small school in a Southern California setting (807 undergraduate students last year), and while both private and expensive, has pretty generous financial aid (32,000 has been the average aid package in recent years, according to HM, apparently an upgrade from the old HM 25 k package).  If you can pay for an out-of-state public school, you can likely afford HM.  The steep recent decline in admits does suggest that HM has been discovered, with a rising rate of out-of-state applicants, but still:  worth adding if you have some space on your target school list and are interested in a small school.

Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

One of my favorite, small, public colleges and also a favorite of Silicon Valley employers, as well as companies like Bechtel, Webcor, Kiewit, et al. Look em’ up, if you are curious, Oh engineering types.  The school is well-known for programs ranging from Architecture to Electrical Engineering, has a highly ranked business school and a number of very strong humanities programs.  Here’s some CPSLO data:

2013: 40,402 applications, 13,939 accepted (35% accepted) with an average wieghted GPA of 3.96, ACT composite average of 29 and SAT 1 average of 1311.  2014: 51,707 applicants, 14,749 admitted (28%-this is a record low for CPSLO), with a weighted GPA of 3.97 on average and SAT Reading and Math of 1318–the ACT composite was 29.  Fall 2015 Update: 46,799 applied; 14,386 admitted; 4.0 GPA average (weighted); ACT average of 30; SAT Reading and Math average of 1332.

Cal Poly has (finally) started to offer more detailed information on student data by fields of study–click here for information by school:  Cal Poly Data Breakdown.

Your Takeaway:  Diversity, Diversity, Diversity–and a somewhat longer list than the old “10 is the max” standard.

As in recent years, the takeaway for this is to develop a longer list of target schools and add some diversity.  I suggest 12-15 as a minimum on your target list, not the old ten maximum list.

After all, it’s the 21st Century, Friends, and as you can see, the admit rates at my alternate schools are also declining, a trickle-down effect of both increased expenses at some of the more popular schools and the very low likelihood of admissions to the most competitive schools–students and parents are getting the message and are looking for the hidden gem or overlooked schools like the few I showed you in this post.

So look for the overlooked, look across borders and over the sea, as well as in your backyard.  Don’t limit your search to the United States.

As in recent years, I strongly encourage students to look at Canada–the University of British Columbia, U of Toronto and McGill come immediately to mind, and are cheaper on average than going out of state within the U.S.  A West-Coast flight to Vancouver, or an East Coast flight to Toronto is actually pretty affordable, so parents can visit with ease, if necessary, and Canada is on average a safer place to live than the U.S., even if they do have more guns per capita.  Must be that relaxed and friendly attitude.

And don’t take the various university rankings too seriously, even if you are a STEM person, which some  of the best known university rankings weight over other factors (money being the other dominant metric).  Nobody knows how to measure the real value of an education, and there is a degree to which the Ivies, particularly Yale, Harvard and Princeton, demonstrate a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to income–income and some other stuff that is used to rank universities does not necessarily reflect the quality of your undergrad education.   Having said that, you might want to check out international rankings for British and Irish universities, and check out some specialty programs, like the accelerated medical degree at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland–an example only if you want to be a surgeon, of course.

Moving back to the role income plays in university rankings, a school from a western state, particularly if it has a smaller population, will obviously have folks with lower incomes–it’s cheaper to live there and more of the students from, say University of Washington or Oregon will be from those states and likely continue to live in the Northwest, which has a great standard of living, but lower average incomes than, say, New York or Mass.  If you went to school in Seattle, but took a job in Cupertino, your income would reflect that.

Keep that in mind and ask what you want from your college experience–a good job is huge, but a good experience is as well, and it starts with having a good list of backup schools to ease the stress of applications.  Good luck and come back soon.