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Introductory College Essay Workshops in June and July 2019

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2019 at 9:44 pm

Introductory College Essay Workshops in June and July With Follow-Up Editing–Also Available for Distance Clients Via Skype

I will be holding small-group essay workshops that introduce the process and get a draft started, on a weekly basis in June and July, meeting at public locations (e.g. conference rooms at libraries) in the Danville and Lafayette areas.  This includes an overview of the writing situation and your audience, advice on approaches, a quick look at some examples and some time to start composing.  We can break out and continue working in a semi-independent fashion following the two-hour introduction, or you can continue on your own, and the fee for the introduction includes an edit on your first draft in the week following the seminar, so you can see how I work throughout the process before you commit to a wider editing package. 

Fee of $125 ahead of workshop via Paypal or at beginning of workshop via check.  I can offer additional support and consulting on an hourly basis—you determine your needs and pay as you go.  Seminars currently scheduled for Fridays and Saturdays, and by demand during the week.  No more than five students per session.    Seminars outside of the Lamorinda area, including South Bay, North Bay, Peninsula and San Francisco, by arrangement

Applying to College in 2019-2020: An Early Look at Early Application Data

In Uncategorized on March 20, 2019 at 2:30 pm

Greetings Rising Seniors and anybody else who wants to look at which colleges are a “fit” for them.

While this post is going to take a look at some early application results for this year, first let me digress for a paragraph: the “fit” of a college–how well it matches your needs and qualifications– is a bit more like the fit of a pair of good jeans than it is s simple statistical match. The ratings you see in various services like the U.S. News don’t tell you anything about how you will feel at a particular school. Location, including weather, culture and activities are also part of the package of things to consider, along with the usual suspects, like the size of the campus, class sizes and strength of programs.

But this is still early days, and I have talked about fit elsewhere (and will again, soon), so let’s move on to some data on the more popular names–though it’s never early to try to think outside the box, as I will show.

Early Admissions for Fall of 2019 (Class of 2023):

Princeton

13.9 % admitted (743 accepted out of 5,335 applicants, and you can assume that over 80% of those will accept and attend).

Harvard:

13.4% admitted. (935 accepted out of 6,598-and again, the yield–those who accept the admissions offer–will be in the 80% range)

Yale

13.1% admiited (794 accepted out of 6,016 early action applicants. This will also be a very high yield group, and Jeremiah Quinlan, the current Dean of Undergrad Admissions stated the 56% of those not accepted were deferred and will be reconsidered for admissions)

Columbia

Has not released results. They are the most chary in providing data among the Ivy League (that New Yawk attitude, I guess) but they did say that 4,461 students applied for binding Early Decision. They won’t tell you anything about their admit rate for ED, but I do want to point out that this means hundreds more early applicants this year over last. And now let’s jump to my go-to application for the Ivies, Cornell–great offerings across the board in terms of majors and quality of programs, and still the easiest Ivy to get into:

Cornell

22.6% accepted in Cornell’s Early Decision applications (1,395 admits out of 6,159 apps . . . Among other things to note, Cornell was overt in its appeal to legacy applicants, indicating that they should show their seriousness by doing an early decision app [and then pay whatever tuition package Cornell offers, as you give up your chance to wait to see what other offers might come when you apply E.D. . . Just remindin’] ).

Your Takeway

I realize that this is far from a complete review of Ivy League early app data, but it is enough to “do the math.” And the math says that you can double to nearly triple your chances with an early application of whatever kind, on a raw statistical basis.

How do I know this? From last year’s data. Look below for a more complete picture of early versus regular decision last year (meaning people who were incoming freshman last August). The reality, however, is that the raw numbers don’t say a lot about any individual’s chances of admission, and there are important “other” factors, such as . . . well that legacy leverage, indicated above in that comment from Cornell. Yes, a legacy applicant who applies early will get a boost, it’s official. Please note, Dear Reader, that I am not commenting on that in any way; I am just stating the facts, which is the only purpose of this post. I have written about this before, however, and will write about this again . . . but for now, look below and you will find last year’s early and regular application data–then do the math as you start thinking about where to apply, and where to apply early

Last year’s data (Class of 2022):

Some Ivy League examples and Stanford in 2018:

Princeton:  Early Admissions–15.4%; Regular Admissions–5.5% (6.1% last year [2017] )

Harvard:  Early Admissions–14.539%; Regular Admissions–4.59% (5.2% last year [2017] )

Yale:  Early Admissions–14.68%; Regular Admissions–6.3% (6.9% last year [2017] )

Columbia–5.5% admit rate; no data supplied for early admissions admit rate. (At least some things are consistent . . . )

UPenn–Early Admissions–18.5%; Regular Admissions–8.39% (9.15% last year)

Brown: Early Admissions–21.7%*; Regular Admissions–7.2%

Cornell:  Early Admissions–24.3%; Regular Admissions–10.3%

Dartmouth–Early Admissions–24.9%; Regular Admissions–8.7%

Saving the toughest nut for last:

Stanford;  Regular Admissions–4.3%; Stanford has not released early application information, or not released it until the following year, for some time, but about 33% of the new class was admitted early. (Again, this is last year’s data. I will update on Stanford soon, but they are becoming the Columbia of the West Coast in terms of data stinginess . . . so much for information wanting to be free.

*Oh, and The Brown early admissions asterisk for fall of 2018 entry data (class of 2022) was due to this data being released indirectly via a presentation, rather than through a press release. I updated it separately, for my clients. This is a free blog site so . . . not everything gets posted here, but I do hope you find it useful, Oh Free Public User).

How to Write the University of Pennsylania Supplemental Essay for 2018-2019: Part 1 of a 2-Part Brief

In 5 I's and 4 C's, How to Write About Penn's 5 I's and 4 C's, Ivy League Application Essays, Penn Application Essay, Penn Supplemental Essay, Uncategorized, University of Pennsylvania Supplemental Essay for 2018-2019 on July 20, 2018 at 10:06 am

Back in Blue (and Red): The U Penn prompts are out. Of all the Ivy League applications, UPenn has the most elaborate contextualizing, and their prompts explicitly demand a level of research and personal introspection that is unique, even in the Ivy League.

Yes, Cornell asks you to explore your major and puts up an annotated list for you to study and then do research from, (please note the date and look for this year’s update on these Cornell prompts) and other schools throw up quotes and context that you really should research (Princeton, Harvard, Yale) but Dean Furda, at Penn, has always done more–and asked for more.

This also means that Penn expects more in terms of time and school-specific knowledge. Furda was one of the first college admissions leaders to set up a blog, and he has continued to use it vigorously. The current iteration of Furda’s admission blog is a full-on multi-page website that bears the name Page 217, a title taken from a well-known app essay prompt in which you had to write page 217 of your 300-page biography.

They don’t use that Page 217 prompt anymore, but it does reveal the philosophy of their approach— to think of a biography  required you to think about the direction of yor own life, as well as to fit in something that indicated how Penn would fit in that biography. This Page 217 prompt demanded a sense of where your life was going and implied that you should have a sense of what Penn offers that would help you get to page 217.  This is still the spirit of their essay prompts.

So there needs to be a sense of your past, as well as of your vision for your future, along with a good  understanding of Penn, all rolled into one essay. But today,  Furda has gone way past the creative riffing of the original  Page 217 prompt. He has come up with a framework of things that he wants you to think about as you write an application essay.

This framework starts with his “5 I’s and 4 C’s.” Yep, nine  things to look at right away, involving both introspection (the I’s) and research on Penn (the C’s.)

This is all about Demonstrated Interest, (also known lately by the more scientific-sounding “Interest Quotient”).  Furda has found a way to roll D.I. into application essays. He wants it to be hard to reuse some boilerplate from other essays for the Penn app.  Demonstrated Interest is increasingly important to elite schools, because they have to find a way to choose among the thousands of similar looking 3.9-4.3 GPA students with high SAT/ACT scores, two pages of activities, and who swear their devotion to  . . . . fifteen different schools.  Or more.  If they offer you a seat, they want to have some certainty that you will accept the offer.

To meet their needs and to write a good Penn application for yourself, your essays have to show something about you personally, but also have to show your interest in Penn by dealing with Furda’s uniquely complex framework for writing.  So let’s take a look at it:

The 5 I’s

A very cute idea, the 5 I’s are focused on you.  Yes, in  the country that has made defining yourself a lifelong project, Penn wants you to define yourself now.  I list each of the I’s below, highlight the important buzzwords and phrases and discuss what the prompts are telegraphing in terms of content and focus.   Notice this as you read the explanation by Penn (and my commentary):  in their explanations, the good people at Penn are quite literally suggesting some areas–topics or subtopics–that an essay could focus on.  But before I look at the “I’s” individually, let’s look at the actual essay prompt that the “5 I’s” address:

University of Pennsylvania Supplemental Essay for 2018-2019:

How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying (College of Arts and Sciences, School of Nursing, The Wharton School, or Penn Engineering). The essay should be between 400-650 words.

Basically, the 5 I’s are the focus of the first sentence in this Keeping that prompt in mind, let’s take the 5 I’s one at a time; here they are, with Penn’s explanation, followed by my commentary and analysis; the bold font is mine, to identify key phrases and words:

Identity–To figure out this piece, you must ask yourself who you are as an individual. How do you see yourself and how do you think that others see you? How do you drill into–essentially, unpack–the definition you create for yourself? Forget putting a name to a college now–don’t say I have to get into Penn or any other school. That comes later. Think about who you are without connecting yourself to anything external, such as brands, people, grades, etc. Think about who you are at your core.

The explanation on this one is not super helpful. How can you know yourself  without connecting to anything external?  Of course, their point is that they don’t want you listing accomplishments, etc, but we all define who we are in a relative way by comparison to who and what is around us.    My suggestion:  shrug and return to this one after doing some work on the other I’s, below.  So let’s do that.

Intellect–How Do You Think and Approach the Acquisition of Knowledge?  The explanation here is a bit more helpful.  Again, I highlight the key phrases:

Part of your identity is your intellect. How do you think and how do you take in information? We want to know about your mind. Pretty simple, right? As educators, we know that all students have a unique intellect with different strengths and learning styles. Recognize that your intellect comes into play in a range of activities, not only while you are in class or doing homework. The problem solving skills that you utilize during club meeting, your perseverance during track practice, and the public speaking ability you employ while running for leadership positions are all positive manifestations of an intellect that is alive and growing.

This prompt seems to suggest that one of the more hackneyed topics, student government, could actually work here, but I think something else is better, as the typical high school leadership thing is now just a class, rather than being something you ran for and won.  Something like taking the lead in the robotics club as you redesign your submersible, troubleshooting the design through reading in theory while tweaking various paremeters, persevering as it sinks, malfunctions and swims in circles,  and almost drowns a teammate in the pool with it, and then, after an all-nighter of hands on problem-solving, fixing a leak and tracking down an electrical short while improvising with a butter knife due to   the fact that a teammate left all the philips head screwdrivers at the airport, and delivering your personal Saint Crispin’s Day Speech, at three a.m., as your team was ready to quit,  then winning that Navy competition (or placing third, or even competing at all–hey, it was a miracle your ‘bot even made it into the pool) –that might be better essay. subject.   

My message here is to look at everything you are doing for inspiraiton. It is not just okay to have a bit of overlap with your activities; if an activity is your passion, you actually need more space to talk about it.  Just don’t make your essay a pure recap or list of actities and accomplisments. The example above is probably for a person with engineering in mind, of course.

Note that my summary of a particularly interesting activity, focused on an example, shows a range of things, with hands-on learning, problem-solving skills and leadership. Also notice that if you put it in first person, you would have an essay subtopic of about 185 words, leaving hundreds more available in this Penn essay.

Ideas–We want to know what you think about and why. When you have time to hang out, what are your ideas? What do you think about big issues like global warming? What do you think about local issues right here in your backyard? What are your ideas and what has informed those ideas? Ideas are what make college communities really interesting. When diverse students with unique intellectual paths share their thoughts with one another, it results in a great synergy. Students who work together, crossing traditional academic boundaries, have the potential to make waves in their community and world. So yes, your ideas, even if at this point they don’t seem realistic, can help you get into college. We are interested in the intellectual innovation you will bring to campus. We are interested in your spark.

So this is great: what a wide field of ideas!   But my warning is to beware of the “Beauty Queen” essay, or the “Dude, have you every thought that the entire universe might be, like, an atom on the fingernail of a God” ramble.  Read my link on the Beauty Queen and click around to read more of my posts on the problem essay–the subjects may have changed, but the basic ideas are the same.  Warning:  be sure that these big ideas are things you have connected with at a deeper level than Pinto, in my link above.  The best ideas to discuss are ones that you have not just thought about in your spare time but that you have also done something about in your spare time, even if that just means chasing down more information on the idea.  Assuming you have spare time, of course.

Interests: What do you like to do? What do you like to do when someone is not telling you to do it? What are your hobbies? This is one way that I think about interests: If you could pick up three books or three magazines, what would they be? Sometimes we need to pick books or magazines up because they feed into the courses that we are taking; other times it is a reflection of our natural acclimations*  and interests. You can do the same exercise with films, or museums. When you walk into a museum, what is the first section that you go to? All these things are going to be interesting to you and they’re going to interesting to the community that you are looking to be part of in college. *(I think they meant to say inclinations here.  Hey, it’s a blog, not a dictionary . . . I guess.)

Quite a few schools ask you to write about things you read, mentioning books more often than magazines. However, when you write about books, you may feel you have to fall back on the literary analysis or argument format that you were taught to use in your English class.  This is more a first-person interest essay.  There are ways to work in some level of analysis however, and I have posted advice and analysis on writing about books a number of times–have a look at this as an example: How to Write about Books.   As always, the purpose in writing about books is to show what you are like, not to interpret what the river means in Huckelberry Finn.  So this is a bit like that old-fashioned art of choosing which books to put on the bookshelf in your living room, so that they make a statement about you.

Haven’t had time to do anything but the “required reading?  No time to start like the present, and since you are likely a super-connected post-millenial person, why limit yourself to paper?  There is such a thing as an online magazine or journal.  In the areas of literature, the arts and politics, you  could take a look as sites like n + 1 magazine (comes in printed form as well), or for a more purely literary slant, Tin House. There are, of course, still the old-school but excellent mags on culture, politics and art from the days of paper, like The New Yorker,  Harpers and The Atlantic, or for more political slant, the liberal Mother Jones, which also does quite a bit of investigative journalism, or The National Review for you young (but traditional) Republicans out there.  Breitbart–give it a  pass for this one, unless you are showing how you like to see what the lunatic fringe is thinking.  A couple of hourse of reading and looking around while taking notes can set your foundation as a budding intellectual–no time to start on that like the present.

As for visiting museums, well let’s just say that this really telegraphs more about the person who wrote the prompt than anything else, and conveys the assumption that you live in an urban core with parents who encourage museum-going, or that you are in an upper-middle class suburb, with access to a city, and ditto the parents.  Of course if you do like to visit museums–I have clients who are artists, or into paleontology, or like to visit the Tech Museum, etc, etc–go for it.

Next (and last up for this post):

Inspiration-What really motivates and inspires you? We can sit down for forty-five minutes and you might not be sure how you want to answer this question or you might be thinking too hard about it. But then, there is this point in the conversation where I ask you something and your eyes light up and your arms start to move about. You are inspired; something really moves you. Tap into this power source and build on it.

When in doubt, look at your responses to the I’s above.  If you have not talked about ideas and activities that inspire you above, then you need a do-over on those.  And any discussion of your passion needs to have some concrete stuff that you do to show it.  

As for who you are at the core, same thing:  your passions should tell you that, as should all the other “I’s.”.  But some broad questions may help–are you a thinker?  A doer?  Political or not?  Do you analyze and break down or does your mind leap to an answer?  Do you learn through the physical world or navigate the e-realm more?

Come back soon; I will post again about Penn, this time looking at The Four C’s, which means researching Penn in more detail

Demonstrated Interest, indeed.

You can follow my blog to see when I post on this again, or just contact me for help with college essays.  My editing and essay development is the best in the business.

 

 

 

Writing an Essay About a Quote for Your 2019-2020 College Application

In Essay About A Quote, Essay Beginning With a Quote, Princeton Quote Essay, Uncategorized, Writing an Essay About a Quote on July 11, 2018 at 11:40 pm

Who should read this post:  Anybody applying to the Ivy League, or anyplace else that asks you to respond to a prompt that uses a quote or that asks you to use a quote.

My usual advice when asked about using a quote to start a college application essay is pretty simple:  Try something else–unless there is a really good reason, like the prompt using a quote, asking for a quote, or presenting a subject that includes quotes–such as your favorite book.

My main reason for being wary of the quote opener in a college essay is also pretty simple:  in order to prompt high school students to get an essay started, many teachers ask students to use a quote when starting an essay, or a question.  That makes the quote opener–and the question intro–overused and prone to cliche.  And given the way that most “quote” essays use the quote like you might use the word “squirrel” to divert the attention of a dog–as a kind of noise to get things moving in a particular direction, in other words–quotes are often a poor way to initiate a college application essay.  But not always, and in some cases, using a quote is a requirement of the prompt.

So there are exceptions to this rule, and many great essays have used quotes to get started and to develop ideas.  In fact, the gentleman who invented the essay as a form, Michel de Montaigne, used quotes all over his “little attempts” or “essais;”  I have never been bored by Montaigne and dozens of his essays are truly great.    Of course, these “essais”  also run from a few pages to a couple score of pages, and they were not written for college admissions.  Some of his techniques will not work, but I have some techniques and ideas below that have worked.

These techniques will come in handy this year, for there are already some important universities that ask you to write to or about a quote in your application.  Among the current year’s  releases as of early July, 2018, Dartmouth has multiple quote prompts, as does the University of Chicago.   Princeton had quote prompts last year, and I  expect them to do so again this year, so  I will be taking  a  look at the Princeton  prompts soon.  You can have a look at recent Princeton prompts,  but hold off  on writing an essay for Princeton until they confirm for the 2019-2020 season, which usually happens in the last week of July–they may change one or more and it’s not worth writing an essay in full until you know–although it’s not a bad idea to have a look at the old prompts and let your mind work on it a bit while you tend to other things.

Let’s take a look at the basic types of quote essays, then have a look at our first example for this year and some ideas about how to attack the prompt:

Three types of Quote Essays

There are three basic ways that colleges can ask you to write about a quote:

They throw a quote at you and ask you to respond to it;

They ask you to choose a quote to talk about;

Or, less directly, they ask you to talk about something that will allow you to use a quote, like a book or a film.

One of the main problems in writing about a quote prompt is establishing some kind of frame for what you want to do.  What do I mean?

Know the Background of the Quote

Well let’s look at what you might not or definitely do not want to do:  write about a quote in such a way that you actually contradict the quote unintentionally and, well, make a fool out of yourself and fall victim to ultracrepidarian syndrome.  Think of that stuffy and rigid person you know who is always full of opinions, especially when they are wrong, and can go on at length about something they know nothing about.  Because most of the quotes used by the universities are presented without much context, you have an open invitation to becoming a card-carrying ultracrepidarian if you do not approach the quote in a skillful way.

Many prompts are intended not to have much context, and the reasons for this vary.  A place like the University of Chicago is  interested in how inventive you can be in responding to a quote, and is not  interested in seeing a research paper,  and in fact some really great essays take off from a quote in totally idiosyncratic or non-sequitur ways that end up having little to do with the original intent of the quote, but that do produce an entertaining and effective essay.  Other quotes, like that used by Dartmouth, beg for some background research.

But even if you decide to write a non-sequitur essay, in which you  goof around with a quote to show your innovative mind, you still need to have some understanding of the quote to find a starting point, in my opinion.   How can you make a joke or satirize something or riff on it if you do not know what it is?  So knowing something about the background of a quote is useful, especially if you want to cleverly subvert expectations.

One of the best recent public examples of people quoting foolishly and widely in public involves Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” in which a character says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”   Quite a few people, some of them very highly placed in government and elsewhere, have been using this quote as  evidence for the idea of building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, as Vice President Mike Pence did, or just in defense of fences in general.

There’s just one problem with that:  the poem is not, in fact, in favor of fences or of walls  Instead, it offers a subversive and ironic take on walls–and fences–questioning them, not promoting them.  Before I show you that,   here is another particularly dim example of this quote, used out of context, to make the problem clear:  Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.

Sure, this is marketing, really, but so is your college application essay, and if you were to upload something like this  as an essay response using a quote you like, I can pretty much guarantee that you would find the college gates shut, with  you outside the walls when admissions offers arrive.  Application readers know something about the quotes they present to you, and are generally well-read people who know about a wide range of quotes you might use.  This means that they usually know when somebody is totally clueless, as in the examples above.   Regardless of your politics, misusing a quote like that from  “Mending Wall” is a no-no.  Let’s just say the standards for application essays are higher than for political speech, these days.

If on the other hand, you were intentionally misusing the quote, great.  But be sure to give the reader clear clues to your clever and satirical or humorous intent.  At the bottom of this post, I offer a full analysis of “Mending Wall” and more links to clarify just how badly this quote has been used, but let’s jump to this year’s quote essays.

How to Write Short Responses and Essays on Quote Topics

For an example of how to look at a couple of quotes and learn some background, I will take a short response first, in which Dartmouth asks you to respond to a quote:

1. Please respond in 100 words or less:

While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818, Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, delivered this memorable line: “It is, Sir…a small college. And yet, there are those who love it!” As you seek admission to the Class of 2023, what aspects of the College’s program, community or campus environment attract your interest?

What to do?  You might start talking about wanting a small college, or profess your love for Dartmouth, or even recall the story “The Devil  and Daniel Webster” and discuss what  slick talker that Mr. Webster was.

Better, of course, would be to talk about the program you are interested in by doing some research, as this short prompt clearly wants you to show some knowledge of Dartmouth and why it fits you, or you fit it.  I discussed researching your university and the essay on why you are a fit in an earlier post, and what it says still applies: The “Why Us” Essay.

But it helps to know something about Daniel Webster and this case, as the quote, and the prompt, says something clear–but only to those who know the background of the quote.  To begin with, the quote they use is specifically from a court case that shaped the contract clause and defined contract law in the U.S.   The court case is described on Wikipedia here: Dartmouth College v. Woodward.

In addition, this quote is prominent on the Dartmouth website.  Here is how this quote appears on Dartmouth’s website, summing up their own history:

 The charter establishing Dartmouth—the ninth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States—was signed in 1769, by John Wentworth, the Royal Governor of New Hampshire, establishing an institution to offer “the best means of education.” For nearly 250 years, Dartmouth has done that and more.

Dartmouth’s founder, the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, a Congregational minister from Connecticut, established the College as an institution to educate Native Americans. Samson Occom, a Mohegan Indian and one of Wheelock’s first students, was instrumental in raising the funds necessary to found the College. In 1972—the same year the College became coeducational—Dartmouth reaffirmed its founding mission and established one of the first Native American Programs in the country. With nearly 1,000 alumni, there are now more Native graduates of Dartmouth than of all other Ivy League institutions combined.

Governor Wentworth provided the land that would become Dartmouth’s picturesque 269-acre campus on the banks of the Connecticut River, which divides New Hampshire and Vermont. The College’s natural beauty was not lost on President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who visited in 1953 and remarked, “This is what a college should look like.”

‘THERE ARE THOSE WHO LOVE IT’

Dartmouth was the subject of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in 1819, Dartmouth College v. Woodward, in which the College prevailed against the State of New Hampshire, which sought to amend Dartmouth’s charter. The case is considered to be one of the most important and formative documents in United States constitutional history, strengthening the Constitution’s contract clause and thereby paving the way for American private institutions to conduct their affairs in accordance with their charters and without interference from the state.

Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, passionately argued for the original contract to be preserved. “It is … a small college,” he said, “and yet there are those who love it.”

The underlining is mine.  Notice that this short history also implies an ethos, and that ethos includes a multiethnic approach to education–Who knew that Dartmouth’s original purpose included a mission to educate Native Americans?

Of course, that may not be as P.C. as it sounds, once you think about it, but leaving aside the questions that raises for now–that matter of genocide as European and then U.S. settlers moved west, not the mention the paternalistic view that a European education was necessary to elevate a native, etc–there is an obvious intent to show Dartmouth as educating all, and as multiethnic.  Then there is an emphasis on the right to pursue the mission of education free of interferance.  And there is a layer of American legal history.  So all of that lies in the quote, and in this, Dartmouth is presenting a sense of its values and purpose–always consider the audience you are writing to, which here is offering you some ideas about how they see themselves..

Yet all of that information may only yield one or two sentences in your short response–remember, you only have 100 words for this one.   But those sentences could be telling.  Showing that you know some background on Dartmouth beyond, oh, the fact that they have a good prelaw track is a plus.  Being  specific and knowing detailed information about your target school, and target audience, is a plus.  This allows you to tailor your response in a way that reflects you and the school, and so shows a good “fit.”  For example:

Centuries before CRISPR, Dartmouth altered the legal D.N.A. of the United States as Daniel Webster defended and won academic and institutional freedom for Dartmouth, his “small college. ” I believe in the values that Dartmouth established generations ahead of the rest of the country when it offered education to native Americans like Samuel Occom,  and I hope to  pursue a degree in x, in a prelaw program, preparing for a career in  y, by working with professors like Z Z in programs like X X,  and learning about YY from  a professor such as A A.

(Note that this example is a few words under the 100 word maximum, and that it also required research into some programs at Dartmouth, as discussed in that post I linked above, and was written by a person with clear goals–all of which will help an application.  And yes, the letters denote name variables for programs and instructors.  This is meant to be farily generic.)

In my next post, I will move  on to a more pure quote essay prompt, this one from the University of Chicago.  Chicago throws six new prompts out there this year, along with a “make up your own” prompt, but then goes on to recycle old prompts, which include at least four that count as quote prompts.  A couple have caught my eye:

“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.“—Miles Davis (1926–91)
—Inspired by Jack Reeves

“Mind that does not stick.”
—Zen Master Shoitsu (1202–80)

Here is my first idea on these:  they both look pretty Zen to me.

You will know when I post on these if you follow my blog.  In the meantime, keep a notebook or phone handy to jot or type ideas as they come.  The creative mind tends to let an idea surface at unexpected times, whether it is for a topic or a great word, or a sentence–but they can easily evaporate.  It’s kind of like that dream you remembered when you woke but forgot by the time you finished breakfast.  Write it down when it appears. 

For those needing a little more evidence that you should not take the quote  “Good fences make good neighbors” as literal truth, take the time to read the poem that is the source of the quote, you will see that the neighbor who advocates fences is portrayed as a dark character, filled with latent violence,  and is directly compared to a  cave man, “an old stone savage” who carries rocks to the wall like some head hunter returning with the skulls of those he has killed.  Throughout  the poem, the narrator argues against his neighbor, questions why they are rebuilding the wall, mocks the idea by wondering if   the neighbor fears that his apple orchard is going to invade the pine trees on the other side, and suggests that we should be careful when building walls–or fences–that we should pay attention to what we many be fencing out–and in.  The poem is highly ironic, but its purpose is clearly to question the reason for fences and walls, not to promote them, and the wall here is linked with fear and violence. In an additional irony, the reluctant narrator and his neighbor are repairing a stone wall, not a fence. 

Here is a more detailed discussion of the poem, as well as of Pence’s misuse of the quote, with some good insights on ambiguity, which is often the way the world is, and which good essayists understand:  D.T. Should Read R.F.’s “Mending Wall.

See you soon.

How to Write the Yale Supplemental Essays for 2018-2019 (And a bonus look at the Dartmouth Supplemental Essay for 2018-2019)

In Community Essay, Problem Essay, Uncategorized, Yale Application Essay 2018-2019, Yale Supplemental Essay on July 6, 2018 at 11:59 pm

Who should read this post:  Anybody applying to Yale or Dartmouth and anybody who needs to write about community or about a problem that needs solving.  In my previous post, I discussed sorting prompts into categories in order to save time by creating reusable essays, or at least some reusable language.  To summarize the basic point, many prompts have overlapping topics that allow you to reuse material, which saves time and suffering.  In that spirit, this post will focus on connections between the Yale and Dartmouth prompts for 2018-2019.  For a link to  a discussion on how to write about a problem, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Background to This Year’s Yale and Dartmouth Prompts:

No doubt if you are reading this, you have already visited the Yale and perhaps the Dartmouth site, and seen this year’s application essay prompts.  Yale and Dartmouth have both launched their essay prompts ahead of their Ivy League peers, as well as Stanford, a move that suggests they are interested in seeing the effects on their application numbers.

Yes, the others have essay prompts up, but they are last year’s prompts, and even though little change is expected for essay prompts this year, I advise that you wait until each school’s prompts  are officially released for this year before you write an essay, so that you do not find that your topic has disappeared.  It have seen this happen.

The reason for the early launch by two Ivies is  easier to guess than, say, why Amazon is changing the prices of product x or y at Whole Foods:  Yale and Dartmouth want a boost in applications this year, by getting the work-intensive part of their applications up early.  Yale has often been a bit tardy in getting their essays out, so it is even more noticeable, at least to me (I do pay attention to this stuff, after all.  It’s my job).

For more on last year’s Ivy League application data, as well as a bit on Stanford, have a look at my recent post on early versus late applications, here:  Ivy League and Stanford Application Data for 2017-2018.

So why would Yale get out there to stir it up and boost numbers?  In my opinion?

There have been identity issues in the Ivies, and there has been some discussion of Yale’s brand slightly declining against those of its immediate peers due to a perception that it is not “STEM-y” enough.  Yale also sends a high percentage of grads into the financial industry in New York, which is a pure blessing for its alumni donations, but a mixed blessing reputationally.  Or maybe those folks in  Yale admissions have just been drinking a lot of double espressos (on ice, given the weather of late) and are operating at a hyper-caffeinated pace.   There is further evidence of another intent within the Yale prompts that is perhaps related to reputation, however, as well as to the kind of student the most elite schools have been working with.

Yet it is not like Yale is the only school struggling with some identity issues.  Harvard had a notorious cheating scandal–and you can see these institutions dealing with their own paradox:  it is so hard to get into most Ivies that some people will do almost anything to get admitted, and some continue their anything-goes-to-get-my-grades habits during their college years.  These things  may explain why so many essays this year can be sorted into the “community involvement” or “do good for humanity” category.

Yale, for example,  has three supplemental essay prompts, but two of them are really about being part of a community.   Note, by the way, that this makes a total of three essays for one Yale application (the Common App 650 or the Coalition App essay, then two of the three supplementals).

And what does Dartmouth have as a supplemental prompt?  Three of the five options are in some sense about being part of a larger community or purpose.  Of course, Dartmouth had its own cheating scandal, in an ethics class, no less.   Satirists take note.  The messaging  in the choice of prompts that the schools are choosing is clear.  Have a look at the Boy Scout Oath if you have any further questions.

Yale and Dartmouth Essay Prompts for 2018-2019

To save you the effort of toggling between windows, here are the supplementals for Yale, followed by a brief analysis, then Dartmouth:

Yale

After a series of short responses with an emphasis on academics, Yale presents this:

Applicants submitting the Coalition Application or Common Application will select from the following topics:

  • Think about an idea or topic that has been intellectually exciting for you. Why are you drawn to it?
  • Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How do you feel you have contributed to this community?
  • Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage issues of local, national, and international importance. Discuss an issue that is significant to you and how your college experience might help you address it.

Applicants submitting the Common Application: Please choose two of the topics above and respond to each in 250 words or fewer. (The bold print here is mine).  Coalition applications use 300 words or fewer.

Let me point out why I sort two of these essays into the same basic category:  Both the community essay, which is the second option, and the significant issue essay, the third option are about engagement with the greater world.

Please notice as well that, when you begin to talk about being part of a community, it may involve things like food and music and family and geography, but it also tends to involve specific challenges–all communities have to be maintained and all communities face problems.  A quick look at our politics shows you that, whether we are talking about decaying mining communities in the Appalachian region or immigrant communities in Oakland:  place, music, food, all the elements of culture are there, but so are a specific set of problems that define the communities.

I do have something for you to consider as a counter-zeitgeist move, though–instead of talking about what it means to be part of some sub-group, is it possible to talk about what it means to be American?  Is that a community anymore?

I am asking this seriously.  I heard a teacher from a highly diverse high school interviewed recently, and he observed that his non-anglo students did not identify with the term “American,” seeing it as a code word for “white”.  So one thing I might challenge you all to think about his what means to be “American” today.  I qualify that as well, by pointing out that, in South America, people tend also to think about themselves as “Americans” in some sense, as this link will show you: “What Does American Actually Mean?”

I also point out that the question of community identity is behind many of the troubled headlines today–tied to the fear of the Other.   (What else is the fear of migrants in, say, Bavaria, when you look at it?  Well that and manipulation by fear-mongering demagogues, which might also be a topic for this year, if you have been paying close attention and can avoid writing a rant.   For the record, for those of you who read the article linked here, I have been to Duisburg and Berlin and did not see the rampant crime claimed by certain Bayerisch politicians.  Felt safer in both places, in fact, than I have in more than a few American cities).

This fear of others is a world-wide phenomenon now, not just an American problem.  Just beware of preaching or going off as if this were a class discussion in Civics or history.   And please note  that this kind of problem or community essay needs to have a strongly personal foundation in  you, your family, your sense of place within a community or within a term like “American,” and that none of these topics ask you to sermonize.

As an addendum to this short discussion I can also suggest that you listen to a short essay by the great linguist Geoffrey Nunberg–words and identity are inseparable, and Nunberg talks about tribalism as his word of the year for 2017 (which involves both a problem and deals with what community is) here.

Everything he said in 2017 seems totally relevant now.  He has a lot to say about related topics if you keep clicking.

If you have an appealing or interesting personal and family history, that also has a place in this kind of essay, but of course you may have crossed that box off already for your Common App or Coalition main essay.

Dartmouth Supplemental Essays

Here they are:

1. Please respond in 100 words or less:

While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818, Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, delivered this memorable line: “It is, Sir…a small college. And yet, there are those who love it!” As you seek admission to the Class of 2023, what aspects of the College’s program, community or campus environment attract your interest?

2. Please choose one of the following prompts and respond in 250-300 words:

A. “I have no special talent,” Albert Einstein once observed. “I am only passionately curious.” Celebrate your curiosity.

B. The Hawaiian word mo’olelo is often translated as “story” but it can also refer to history, legend, genealogy, and tradition. Use one of these translations to introduce yourself.

C. “You can’t use up creativity,” Maya Angelou mused. “The more you use, the more you have.” Share a creative moment or impulse—in any form—that inspired creativity in your life.

D. In the aftermath of World War II, Dartmouth President John Sloane Dickey, Class of 1929, proclaimed, “The world’s troubles are your troubles…and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix.” Which of the world’s “troubles” inspires you to act? How might your course of study at Dartmouth prepare you to address it?

E. In The Bingo Palace, author Louise Erdrich, Class of 1976, writes, “…no one gets wise enough to really understand the heart of another, though it is the task of our life to try.” Discuss.

F. Emmy and Grammy winner Donald Glover is a 21st century Renaissance man—an actor, comedian, writer, director, producer, singer, songwriter, rapper, and DJ. And yet the versatile storyteller and performer recently told an interviewer, “The thing I imagine myself being in the future doesn’t exist yet.” Can you relate?

So let’s sort these as well:  Prompt 1, the short response, is clearly of the “Why Us” variety which I discussed in my previous post. It is also really  short, so look closely at a few programs/aspects of Dartmouth that appeal and good luck.

Prompt 2 has a clear “problem” essay in Dbut this problem also implicitly demands a degree of awareness and engagement with the larger world.  So, a community aspect, define that as you will by the problem you want to address (and those you therefore want to help).  Again, watch the preaching.

As for community prompts here, that starts with B–history, legend, tradition are all community things.  Sure, it is about you, but it is about what has been transmitted to you and what you are part of.

Prompt E is also in about connecting to somebody else, whether because they are an outsider, or as part of just connecting, to which I add that some sense of shared connection, some sense of empathy  is always what underlies a community.    (Warning for this essay:  Beware of a Kumbaya overdose, for which the antidote is a good sense of humor).

And finally, Danny Glover in E.  Maybe what Glover was thinking about that does not exist is just being a person in America, without all that other stuff he often talks about as a comedian, like always having a hyphen attached to his identity, or what one has to do while black in America.  Think about what it would be like to have an America where that did not happen and Danny Glover was not an “African-American” comedian, but instead was just an American comedian.  Or just a great comedian.

Before I leave, I have written about the Problem Essay long ago.  Some topics not have changed  much, which says a lot.

If time allows, I will discuss problem essays at more length in the coming weeks.  But hey, when Yale gets its application prompts out this early, I may be busy pretty soon.  Speaking of which, if you are seeking editing help, Contact Me sooner rather than later, as my book will start to fill up soon.

Now That You Have Your College Acceptances: Last Minute Advice for Which College to Choose

In college admission, Getting Into College, Ivy League Admissions, Tuition Costs, Uncategorized on April 30, 2018 at 1:33 pm

And my advice is:  follow the money.  Or at least consider if going to, say, Cornell, is going to offer enough bang for your bucks.  Paradoxically, there is evidence that, if you are a “First-Gen” college student, or your family has limited financial means, the extra money is more likely to pay off in the kind of social capital that upper-middle class and wealthy students take for granted.  I will link some evidence for my claims below.  For now I am just going to outline some basic truths, both in general and from my own experience:

  1.  Selecting a college these days is a lot like buying a house.  Money should be as important as the amenities and location in choosing a college, just as it is when buying a house.  And like buying a house has the basic function of providing shelter, so the purpose of college is to provide you an education.  Connections are great and all, and I will get to those later, as promised, but don’t get blinded by the future promise of the connections you think you will make, or by the present promise of a really cool gym and dorm room, or all that tradition and ivy-covered walls.  When I have worked with groups of students who ended up going to different colleges, they have come back to me and confirmed that the basic product–a good education–is remarkably similar, campus-by-campus.  Continuing my house analogy, I just looked up foreclosures in the wealthy enclave of Alamo, CA, and opened up a house going into foreclosure that has 8,000 square feet and seven bathrooms.  The ego benefit of having a Harvard sticker may not outweigh paying five hundred bucks a month for student loans for seven or ten years, or handing on debt to your children, just as the ego benefit of having 8k square feet with a view from the side of Mount Diablo is meaningless when you cannot pay for it, or are trapped by the payments.  Keep in mind that financial aid packages can be adjusted upward or downward every year.  Don’t get buyers remorse next year, or the year you graduate and get your first loan payment letter.
  2. The most important thing about a college education is not the name of the school.  It is the degree itself.  I know this sounds like what I just argued, but bear with me for the details.  The social connections made at an elite college provide a boost that is notable mostly for low-income and First Gen students.  Most solidly middle class (and up) students already have connections; for them, brand name and social considerations should not be at the top of the list, if money will be a problem.  But studies show that the degree is the main thing–if you have 100,00 dollars in debt after going to an elite school, versus say 20k after going to a state school, you are not likely to see enough of a difference in income to make that a good payoff.  To repeat, with feeling:  Getting a degree is the most important thing, not which college it is from, in terms of incomes after college, and  doubly not so for any technical major (engineering, et al) or finance or business . . . The takeaway is put the degree itself and the cost at the top of your considerations. If you are from a family that will not get good financial aid, and tuition, et al,  will be hard to carry–especially if private student loans are going to be needed–and you have other options, I suggest really considering those cheaper options.  Also note how long the latest financial expansion is and plan on a recession starting anywhere from next month to, at the latest, your junior year in college.  Still feeling good about the financials?
  3. If you want to  major in something like Art History or English, but feel you cannot because of cost, you should look for a cheaper school.  If you do well in any major, and plug in the right minor that gives you some skills, you can get a good job.  A recent client, for example, majored in lit, with a Comp Sci minor and is not doing animation and web design, with all kinds of things opening up for him.
  4. You should ignore people like Peter Thiel, who claim college is somehow not necessary, and go, if you can.  Notice that Thiel has not one, but two Stanford degrees.  But I do agree with Thiel on one thing:  too many people are leveraging and taking on debt to go to college.  So go to a community college with a clear university target to follow, if money is an issue.  And make that university a public, in-state school for the best bang for your buck.

And now, here is some evidence for my claims:

From the Brookings Institute, the positive impact of college on earnings for students from backgrounds of poverty:

As the figure shows, however, without a college degree a child born into a family in the lowest quintile has a 45 percent chance of remaining in that quintile as an adult and only a 5 percent chance of moving into the highest quintile. On the other hand, children born into the lowest quintile who do earn a college degree have only a 16 percent chance of remaining in the lowest quintile and a 19 percent chance of breaking into the top quintile. In other words, a low-income individual without a college degree will very likely remain in the lower part of the earnings distribution, whereas a low-income individual with a college degree could just as easily land in any income quintile—including the highest.

Also from Brookings, the effect of a college degree, categorically, without reference to college pedigree:

For more on that Brookings study, which shows that the poor still don’t get as good a deal as the rich (but still:  get the degree):  Brookings.

And more evidence on the effect of college on earnings:

So what role do U.S. colleges play in promoting upward mobility? According to the authors, their analysis of the data yielded four main findings.

First, access to colleges varies greatly by parent income. For example, children whose parents are in the top one percent of the income distribution are seventy-seven times more likely to attend an Ivy League college than those whose parents are in the bottom income quintile. Contrary to public perception, colleges in America are just as socioeconomically segregated as the neighborhoods where children grow up.

Second, within a given college, children from low- and high-income families end up earning very similar amounts. In other words, colleges are successfully “leveling the playing field” for the students they admit, and poor students don’t appear to be “overmatched” at selective colleges as some observers have suggested. On average—and regardless of socioeconomic background—the subsequent earnings of students who attend “elite” schools put them in roughly the eightieth income percentile versus the seventieth percentile for students at other four-year colleges and the sixtieth percentile for students at two-year colleges.

Third, upward mobility rates vary substantially across colleges. For example, California State University–Los Angeles catapults a whopping 10 percent of its student body from the bottom quintile to the top, and some campuses of the City University of New York (CUNY) and the University of Texas system have mobility rates above 6 percent. Yet one in ten colleges has a mobility rate of less than 1 percent. (More on these variations below.)

Finally, although the fraction of low income kids attending college increased from 38 to 46 percent during the 2000s, the number attending colleges with high mobility rates fell sharply, while the fraction of low-income students at four-year colleges and selective schools was unchanged—even at Ivy League colleges, which enacted substantial tuition reductions and other outreach policies. Most of the increase in low-income enrollment occurred at two-year colleges and for-profit institutions.

 

For more on that last study, go here:  College Effect on Upward Mobility

 

Writing an Essay about a Quote–Some Additional Resources for the Princeton Supplement and other Application Essays Based on Quotes

In Essay About A Quote, Essay Beginning With a Quote, Princeton Quote Essay, Uncategorized, Writing an Essay About a Quote on July 28, 2017 at 12:57 pm

Who should read this post:  Anybody looking for ideas on an essay about a quote.  You should also check out my last post on Writing About a Quote for Princeton, which introduces how to use an essay or a quote from an essay.

For those of you who read my post on using an essay for . . . an essay about a quote, and want more, below I have additional links to excellent writers and essays, good for quoting and good for ideas about how to write an essay that is interesting or even brilliant.

These links are centered on two long-standing magazines that are famous for featuring quality essays. Short descriptions and author links will help you choose, or just click on everything, and keep clicking until you find an essay, or a quote . . . that clicks.

One the one hand, these essays may provide a quote for you to use. On the other hand, you will find nothing but great writing in these links, which carries its own lessons about how to construct an essay, even if you do not use a specific essay for a quote.

Author and essay links

Atlantic—One of America’s Great, long-running magazines on culture, politics, the arts and writing.

Atlantic Writers Page

A sampling of writers and works

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle and Between the World and Me.

Coates’ essay on Obama, starting with quote from Gatsby

JJ Gould on culture and language:

A Brief History of Dude

Ian Bogost, contributing editor, tech subjects:

Essay on The Fidget Spinner

Or try this:

How Many Robots Does It Take to Replace a Human Job?

Key Quote:

Recent studies from McKinsey and the economists Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne estimate that around 45 percent of workers currently perform tasks that could be automated in the near future. And the World Bank estimates that around 57 percent of jobs could be automated within the next 20 years.

For the full essay:  Robots.     This robot article by Gillian White, Senior Associate Editor

Next up: Ross Anderson, Science topics, very cool stuff for science fans

Ross Anderson Page

Essay on Pleistocene Park—kind of like Jurassic Park, just more recent

 

The World’s Most Urgent Science Project

To know the Earth’s future, you must first know its past.

 

Matt Thompson, Deputy Editor

 Advertising That Exploits Our Deepest Insecurities

Key Quote

The web browser is a dissatisfaction-seeking machine.

 Key section

The web browser is a dissatisfaction-seeking machine. Every search query we input reflects a desire—to have, to know, to find. Ordinarily, that fact may escape notice. But there are moments when the machine reveals its inhumanity.

Speaking on a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is cohosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, Manoush Zomorodi, host of WNYC’s Note to Self, shared a story of a message she received from a listener who’d been following her series on digital privacy. “She was concerned that she might have a drinking problem, and so she went on Google and asked one of those questions, ‘How do you know if you have a drinking problem?’ Two hours later, she goes on Facebook, and she gets an ad for her local liquor store.

“And she left me a voicemail crying, ’cause she was like, ‘You know, it would be one thing if it were even sending me, like, clinics maybe where I could get help. But the fact that that’s how it was targeting me …’ She felt so betrayed by Facebook, this company with whom she had a very intimate relationship.”

Other Interesting Stuff:

New Yorker—Probably the most important general-circulation magazine on culture, arts and politics, with some detours into science, as well as poetry, famous cartoons and restaurants in . . . New York

For example, Mary Karr on high heels

And frankly, all you have to do to find more cool stuff is keep clicking—though quite a bit is behind a paywall, much is also kept up as a public service.

Here is where you can access a list of New Yorker contributors. In two words: Awesome Writers. Click away to find some excellent stuff to learn from or quote from:

List of New Yorker Writers, Linked to Essays

 

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.  

———————————————————————————————————

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.

 

Princeton leads the Pack: The Princeton Supplemental Questions for 2017-2018

In Princeton Admissions, Princeton Application Essays, Princeton Application for the Class of 2022, Princeton Supplement, Princeton Supplemental Essays, Uncategorized on July 11, 2017 at 11:16 pm

Greetings Ivy-Seekers:  Below is the post for last year’s Princeton essays (I am writing this in July, 2018).  I expect most of last year’s prompts to remain, but they can tinker, and sometimes pull a fast one by trotting out a whole new set of prompts.  The confirmed prompts usually appear in the last week of July, and I will write about them when I get an opportunity, after they appear. In the meantime, you can get an idea of their approach, and start doing some brainstorming, by looking at the material below.

Here is your content:

Wow, that title alliterates nicely.

Below you will find my annotated discussion of Princeton’s supplementals for this year, which popped up this week on Princeton’s website, complete with a pdf for those of you living with dial-up modems and whatnot.

So here goes my first post on Ivy League Essay prompts for 2017-2018; rather than a super-detailed analysis of each prompt, I am going to annotate as I go. And this post will cover the short responses for Princeton; we will look at the essay prompts in the next post, though I will list them below my advice on the Princeton short responses.

Here goes:

Princeton Supplement

My note:  Here is a link to the Princeton Supplement, with writing prompts, in pdf form— Princeton Application Class of 2022 pdf.   Please note that, if you are using the Common Application site or another portal like Naviance, you do not need to print out and fill out the pdf form to mail to anybody—it is enough to fill in all the boxes online, thank you very much.  But research also shows that handwriting ideas and scribbling is great for inspiration, so I also suggest that you print it out and use it as a scratch sheet or carry it around in a notebook so you can write down all those brilliant ideas before you forget them.

Next item, from Princeton:

In addition to the Common Application or the Universal College Application, Princeton University requires the Princeton Supplement. You submit the Supplement online through either the Common Application or Universal College Application. You will be able to view the Supplement in full on whichever application you choose, after you add Princeton University to your list.

For quick reference, below are the short answer and essay questions included in the Princeton Supplement for 2017-18. 

My note: do not go into the Common Application portal, et al, and try to fill in the blanks or upload your essays until August 1st or later—all existing accounts on the Common Application will be eliminated at some point in the last week of July, when the Common App website is largely offline as it is set up for the coming year of applications.

Activities

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences that was particularly meaningful to you. (Response required in about 150 words.)

Stick to the word count, though you may try compound words as a tried-and-true strategy for reducing word count.  See what I’m saying?  Note as well that just saying what you did in your activities is not enough–why did it matter?  Try to let the reason it was important enough to list  show,  and make a statement about that if possible.  You don’t need to be saving the world all the time, but it can be helpful to show that you actually like and care about what you are doing and you do try to help where you can.

Summers

Please tell us how you have spent the last two summers (or vacations between school years), including any jobs you have held. (Response required in about 150 words.)

Being a dishwasher is not necessarily held against you–hey, that would be classist, after all–but that N.I.H. internship in D.C. would obviously look better–maybe.  If you were washing dishes to help support your family or making money for college and could not afford to find a place to stay near D.C. in order to do the N.I.H internship, then the dishwashing thing might actually look pretty good, especially if you were working on your kinetic sculptures and robotic submarine on your evenings off.  Keep in mind that, on the one hand, you are filling in the colors of a picture of yourself, and you get to pick the colors–the details–you provide.  Choose wisely.  But on the other hand,  keep in mind that the modern app officer can and will check on your social media–so with this and the last answer, be sure all the dots connect between your virtual life and the life you present to Princeton.  

A Few Details

My comment:  Think about these questions in this way:  If a Princeton admissions officer were  going to visit you, what kind of stuff would you put away and what kind of stuff would you keep out in full view on the coffee table and book shelves?  If you think about it, we often arrange the information that others can see about us in order to create the right impression.  So that is my overall comment on how to approach these short responses.

  • Your favorite book and its author–My note–Try to avoid listing “school” books–and  be aware that many books are on school reading lists as well as curriculum; I have written extensively on writing about books before, but this is a pretty good intro and can help you show how to think about this before writing, even if it is just a blurb: How to Write About Books, Part 1.
  • Your favorite website–As with the books, you want to choose in a way that does not make you look like a phony or like an incurious and shallow social climber–so just as you should not be listing War and Peace and talking about your love of Russian literature for your favorite book, if in reality you only read graphic novels that eschew words, so you should not list The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as your favorite website if your idea of philosophy is quoting Dude Lebowski as deep philosophy (Note to hipsters:  The Big Lebowski is in part a satire on what happened to the Love Generation and its social conscience.  Oh, and I am a fan of the film, and the Cohn brothers).  On the other hand, if Twitter, Snapchat or Netflix are your favorite websites . . . maybe put those in a drawer, so to speak, and come up with something else.  TinHouse?  Vox?  N+1?  Just be able to explain in a convincing and pithy way.  
  • Your favorite recording-You are getting the picture by now, and I am not going to guide your musical taste . . . though maybe this book would help with some ideas on popular music and inspire some other essays:  Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop.
  • Your favorite source of inspirationNow we start looking not for repetition between all these short statements; we look for how they add up.  Go with your favorite inspiration as long as it seems okay.  That little voice that Socrates supposedly heard in his head might not have worked so well for this one.
  • Your favorite line from a movie or book and its title-Let me give you my own example, for this one; My favorite movie line comes from Casablanca, as the prefect of police, having just gambled, shuts down Ricks’ Cafe:  “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”   I love the full-throated cynicism that keeps this romantic movie’s feet on the ground.  And somehow it speaks fully to our current political moment.
  • Your favorite movie–Hmm.  Casablanca or Kurasowa’s Ran or The Big Lebowski or Blade Runner or Lawrence of Arabia  or The Searchers or True Grit (Cohn Version) or The Marriage of Eva Braun  . . . This would be tough for me.  So I will just remind you to look at what fits you and the you that you want to show.
  • Two adjectives your friends would use to describe you–Be positive but not cheesy.
  • Your favorite keepsake or memento–Please, no alt-right memorabilia and no Disney plush toys.  Well maybe the plush toy if you can make it meet cute instead of cheesy cute.
  • Your favorite wordBe positive and don’t say positive.  

Next up:  the essay prompts–I will list them below in full, but will not comment on them in this post–it’s long enough already, I think.  I will annotate them in my next post.  To see the prompts, scroll down.

Essay: Your Voice

In addition to the essay you have written for the Common Application or the Universal College Application, please write an essay of about 500 words (no more than 650 words and no fewer 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 or Universal College Application.

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

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.

To see my comments, come back soon.  I will write about them before July 15th . . .if you are visiting on or after that date, just check the a post or two before this one or visit my homepage and start clicking if you do not see the post–you will find links there.